Friday, June 18, 2021

A Word on Shame

Two weeks ago, we talked about believing and what it takes to put our trust in something. Last week, we talked about living a dynamic human life by properly identifying and naming our emotional realities. Today, I want to blend these a little bit as we talk about something a bit more difficult: shame.

Whether we like it or not - whether we realize it or not - we live in a shame-based society. It's not very well structured and can, at times, be extremely fickle, but shame is the driving force between so much of the conversation that we have with one another, particularly on social media and in mainstream media messaging. 

If you have a local community social media group, you already know what I'm talking about. Frequently, someone will show up to post something just to shame someone else. A group didn't leave a tip at a restaurant. A neighbor's weeds are overtaking someone's yard. The trash men left a few scraps in the middle of the road. Someone did a horrible parking job in a public parking lot. Another person didn't take their grocery cart back to the corral. And on and on and on it goes. The aim of these posts is to shame those who do not act according to whatever social standard the original poster is attempting to appeal to - and to shame anyone like them who might secretly not see the problem, or claim to not see the problem, with the behavior. 

Sometimes, it works, and commenters will jump on the bandwagon and group-shaming begins to happen. Sometimes, commenters will jump in and start shaming the original poster, telling them that any reasonable human being would just accept it and move on or would take care of the problem him/herself. Not everyone tips; you have to accept that if you want to be a serve. No one has to park in a way that you approve of in a public lot or on a public street; it's unfortunate, but you're a real jerk for calling them out. If your neighbor's cat pooped in your flower beds, just grow up, pick it up, and move on with your life. 

But remember when I said it's fickle? It's fickle. Because if your neighbor has a dead animal on their property, you should pick it up instead of try to shame them about it. If your neighbor's weeds are overtaking your yard, you should just shut up and trim them instead of making a big deal about it. And it's your responsibility to pick up your neighbor's cat poop in your garden; it's not that big of a deal. But if your neighbor's dog poops in your yard, they are, in fact, a horrible human being and do not deserve to own animals. 

We cannot know what we should shame and what we shouldn't and whether or not we're going to end up getting shamed ourselves as a result or not. Like I said, it's fickle. 

And now, we've got an ad running on local TV that is based on the same shame principle, although the language itself doesn't exactly say that. It's a vaccine ad. It shows a bunch of persons with heart-shaped bandages on their arms and says things like, "This is not a bandaid. This is a badge of honor. (The opposite, you might recognize of shame.) This is a mark that says that you listened to your doctor and got your vaccine. This is a mark that you are doing your part to help all of us get back to normal. Good for you!" 

But this isn't a commercial meant to affirm the vaccinated; it's a commercial meant to shame the unvaccinated. It implies they don't have any honor. It implies they don't listen to the wisdom of their doctors, so they are arrogant. It implies they don't listen to 'science,' so they are foolish. It implies that they aren't doing their part to help us all, so they are selfish. The message of this commercial is not mean to be "Good for you!" The message of this commercial is "Shame on you!" It is intended to urge compliance through shame. And even the vaccinated who watch it understand that this is the message.

We are, whether we like it or not and whether we realize it or not, a shame-based society. It's become a weapon of social coercion, though we call it a bestowing of honor for social cohesion. 

And it's dangerous. 

It's dangerous for a couple of reasons - culturally and individually. So we'll take a few days to look at shame because this is important, particularly for us as a people living in this culture.  

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