A Culture of Shame

Shaming seems to be the method of choice for converting hearts and minds to our ideas these days (hardly something new). In this post, I examine this backwards approach and its negative repercussions, and offer other approaches.

What a horrible book! I know. I hated having to read this book as well, but when I think of shaming, I think of Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and the Puritans. It’s an awful book, I think, but it does show the power of shaming.

I mean, think about it. There wasn’t a discussion in the book about the morality of adultery, there wasn’t a forum on the nature of marriage, there wasn’t a question as to whether or not a spiritual book should be enforced through secular laws. No, the rules were not to be questioned, and anyone who disagreed with them was a heretic or worse.

Thanks, Captain Obvious. Well, fair, but I feel like the lesson we’re missing in all of this is that we apply these same tactics today. I guess I’m sick and tired of the sort of shaming and shouting down that takes place in our social and political dialog. Most times I read an article or hear a disagreement about an issue, name-calling like “SOCIALIST!” or “FASCIST” or “BIGOT!” or “IDIOT!” are thrown around, as though that actually proves a point.

I mean, we want people to come around to our side on an issue or an idea, right? Does shouting them down, or shaming them, actually do anything more than build resentment? Yes, they may not voice their opinions anymore, but that’s because they’ve been beaten over the head with the bludgeon of self-righteousness.

Dissent is a beautiful thing. In a class I was not expecting to like at all, the teacher totally diffused my reservations and hesitations by not only allowing some dissent in the classroom, but welcoming it. It was an amazing experience. I felt listened to. I felt like I could share my view wholly and then have it examined in a fair forum. In that setting, because of that culture, I was able to do as much learning as I have in any class.

Unfortunately, dissent is not generally welcomed in our culture right now, but it should be, no matter how absurd. The reason is, if you trust that you are right, then you should have no fear in allowing someone to share their opinion. You have truth and logic on your side, so you will be able to hear where they’re coming from and explain why your view is correct. Sadly, I think the reason this feels so uncommon is that people rarely take the time to really understand the logic and arguments of their own view, much less the opposing view, so associating with a particular view becomes about nothing more than identity. A person in that mindset identifies an opposing belief system and simply pairs it with a stereotype, and the name-calling begins.

Without trying to understand a view that is opposite of one’s own, there can never be growth. If something is the right idea, it should be able to stand when set up against an opposing idea, and that should act to confirm a truth, but sadly, it seems there is little curiosity for opposing thought. We all want to be branded as right or knowledgeable or some other label and be patted on the back by our increasingly-homogenous circle of friends.

That’s what it seems to boil down to: identity vs. curiosity. What good is it to be right (in your own eyes) if you can’t convince people through sound logic and calm reasoning of your point?

Stop being a jerk, Adam! I know I’ve been accused of ideological bullying before, and yes, I have had to do some learning. Point is, if you think silencing people by shouting them down or shaming them is the equivalent of gaining a convert to your way of thinking, you’re sadly mistaken. If you want to be an intellectual bully because the majority of people that surround you agree with you, go ahead. But if you’re interested in finding the truth on topics, it takes questioning your own view, testing it (which is a painful process, and homogenous friends will not often understand) to see what makes it through the fire, and seeking out and trying to understand the opposing view and its basis.

It’s funny. We talk about each other like the other side (THE OTHERS!) has this frightening motivation behind their beliefs, but I’ve found that most people are rather well-intentioned. I feel like if we sought each other out and realized that, we’d be able to have productive discussions, end the shaming, and perhaps even make some converts to our way of thinking. Or (GASP), we may even become convinced by a different viewpoint.

About Adam Nannini

The greatest writer of his generation ... which isn't saying much.
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