Monday, June 21, 2021

A Culture of Shame

Yesterday, we looked at how our culture is becoming more shame-based. This is dangerous, I have proposed, in a couple of ways. And the first way that it is dangerous is in relationship to our culture itself. 

Shame creates distance between persons. We know this is true because we saw how quickly Adam and Eve dove for the bushes when they heard the mere footsteps of God in the Garden, a God whom they loved and a God whom they knew loved them. Shame told them they were not as connected as they thought they were - and how could they be? They were not who they had proposed to be in the relationship, so the relationship itself was fundamentally shaken. 

But this is magnified exponentially when shame is used as a weapon. Because shame as a weapon is meant to be sharp enough to divide us. It is meant to help us create categories of 'in' and 'out,' or as we like to call it, 'us' and 'them.' We are the ones living with honor and dignity and grace; we are the ones getting it right, working hard, doing our part to be honorable human beings. And they are the ones who aren't even trying, who are failing so miserably at even the basics of being human.

And once we have a 'they' who are not considered honorable, then we have a 'we' who are under no obligation to even attempt to honor - or respect - or love - or encourage - or help - at all. So we, who are honorable, become less honorable by drawing lines, but then we convince ourselves that we are actually more honorable because the lines that we have drawn are somehow lines of honor. 

Shame convinces us that this is possible. Not only that this is possible, but that this is good. And that we are good for doing it. 

Then we have all of this tension build up between persons, persons who sometimes even once loved each other, and we wonder how we got here. Well, we got here because we were betrayed by someone we thought we knew when we discovered they were actually on the other side of the shame line. When we discovered they were actually someone shameful. We cannot possibly believe that our friend, our good friend, is someone who doesn't return their cart to the corral in the parking lot. How dare they. And then we start to wonder what other little secrets they are keeping from us. 

That's one of the things that is weird about shame: we know that it is a betrayal of ourselves (and for those of us who are persons of faith, of our God), but in a culture of shame, it is viewed as a betrayal of the other. When we are not who we pretended to be, we are a liar. 

This not only damages our relationships with the one we believe betrayed us; it damages our relationships with everyone. We're always on guard against another betrayal, always a little bit on edge about what secrets our friends or family might be keeping from us. We keep a little bit of distance between us and others lest we come to find out they, too, are shameful persons and perhaps even their shame will rub off on us. 

All of a sudden, we're living in a so-called 'community' where we will only allow ourselves to be in relationship with persons we do not find shameful in any degree. Thus, we become a 'community' that pronounces our shame very loudly, condemning others very loudly, weeding them out very publicly in search of a 'pure' friendship - one untainted by shamefulness. That's how we got to where we are - our public shaming is our attempt to weed out of our communities those that we find distasteful and to condemn them to the bushes before we even get started so that they don't mess anything up for the rest of us. 

At the same time, we use our public shaming to hopefully coerce compliance - we want persons like this living in our community, so if you want to enjoy all of the fun things that we enjoy and create a safe space for yourself here where you are not called out all the time and where we don't have to keep chastising you for your inappropriate behavior, then simply do not do these things. 

We are naming our price of membership through shame, and then we are wondering why our communities are broken. It's because we cannot draw near, lest we fail someone or lest they fail us. Lest we come to reveal that...oops, we are humans and make mistakes and sometimes, even bad choices. We look in the mirror and know that we are not perfect, and because of our culture of shame, our imperfections deem us unworthy of one another. So we live isolated lives surrounded by others, too afraid to step into a culture too quick to shame us for things that most of the time, we didn't even know were 'wrong.' We become afraid of the very community that we seek because we can never know if we will be accepted or not. 

Are we an 'us' or are we a 'them'? In a culture of shame, we never know. And sadly, what too often happens is that we attempt to prove ourselves an 'us' by calling out another 'them,' and so on and so on and so on it goes until no one is safe here. 

That's why shame is dangerous for our communities. 

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