Confessions of a Shame-Game Enthusiast

 

shame II know it might not be right or good – but there are particular situations where I love shaming others. It feels like
a dirty little secret.  I have this Shame-Game that I play.  I need your help to determine if this is a habit I should live into, or let go of. So here is my confession.

I seek out opportunities to shame those who appear to act selfishly without regard for others. Let me give you a recent example.  I was going to the mall and noticed a fancy red convertible parked illegally in the fire lane at the entrance to the mall.

As I approached the car, I could feel my anger increase.  Why do rich people think the rules are not for them?  And my stereotypes were confirmed when a middle-aged man walked out of the mall with a shiny suit and a very small bag from shopping in the mall.  I stopped in my tracks.  I’ve noticed it is usually men who drive fancy convertibles and park them illegally.  I watched the able body man walk with ease and, sure enough, he got into the illegally parked car which I was now standing on the sidewalk directly beside.  The man was avoiding my glare and outreached hand questioning what he was about.  When I noticed he was trying to make a getaway.  I said to him,

“You are in the fire lane.”

As he started to pull away, like a two-year-old he said “now you’re in the fire lane.”  Actually I was on the sidewalk.

So I increased my voice too loud.  I wanted him to hear me, but also wanted everyone else to hear me.  This man dressed and drove like he wanted everyone to notice him, so I figured I would help him get noticed.

I yelled after him.

“You are parked illegally in the fire lane.”

“You are not the only person in the world.”

“You need to think about others.”

“What if there was a fire?”

“Don’t run away.  You are not more important than others.”

Everyone around was watching him and me.  But the other bystanders fell silent; perhaps wondering why I was yelling at a stranger.  In the awkward silence, I thought of all the times I silently watched others with power do things that I did not think was right.  The silence of bystanders is traumatizing.  As I person with a terminal disease I am starting to find my voice.

Let me set the content.  When I was a professor in peace, conflict and restorative justice, people expected me to be a reconciling presence.  I would teach my students that sometimes the rule of peacebuilder needed to include increasing the conflict and not resolving it.  But generally we have these unwritten rules that most of the time we are silent when powerful people act poorly, but then we complain about it later.

My experience is that in facing my terminal disease I am losing my fear.  Perhaps this is good part of healing and transformation.  Perhaps one of the holes in my head is impeding the part of the brain the regulates the creation of emotions.

My confession would be incomplete without telling you that I seek out these opportunities to shame those I perceive to have a deep dis-concern for the welfare of the community.  In the area of the city I live in, there are streets which on Sundays and holidays in summer are “closed” to traffic to encourage the community to walk and bike and engage with neighbours.  I love this tradition.  The city workers put up ‘road closed’ signs but they do not fully block the road.  In fact, at each road block there is a sign that says you can use the closed road for one block only for local traffic.  So this provides me the prefect conditions to play my shame game.  On Sundays and holidays, I go walking with my dog on these streets.  I walk in the middle of the road and watch for traffic.  If I see a car on the closed street travelling more than a block, I make sure that I reposition myself and my dog so that they cannot get around us.  I make them slow down.  Then I go to the driver’s window and say, nicely the first time, “one block only.” If they apologize, nothing more is said. Job done. If they try to swerve around me, I might start to yell.  I want to make it uncomfortable for them.  Did I tell you? For some reason my wife and kids refuse to come along when I preform my community outreach.

For me, Canadian Thanksgiving is a sad time.  This is marks the end of the shame game season for the streets near my house.  I have to wait now for spring training or find some other context where I can practice my game.

Shame II Game of Throne

When I taught people about restorative justice we would often talk about shame and shaming.  I am from the view that we have enough shame in the world and that intentionally adding shame to others is an awful way to work at transformation.

So now I found myself outside of my own comfort zone.  My shame game practice does intentionally shame others.

This is where I need your help.  You have received my confession.  What is your advice? Do I have your permission to continue this practice?  Do I need to stop?  What say you, my advisor?

 

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18 Comments

  1. I’m not really sure how to evaluate this morally, but I will offer my own journey slowly coming away from a confrontational approach to injustice. I have been taught and am coming to discover that when I’m angered at another’s behaviour- even something grossly wrong as this- it is usually a part of myself, ugly and unlooked-at, that is shameful to me.
    I am learning the value of compassion even on the flagrantly selfish and arrogant, who have a disease of sin and suffering even if they try to look invulnerable. If possible, I try to move to compassion and condemn sin in my own self rather than shame another. I try to bare a little shame on behalf of my brother- the fool or enemy before me.

    God grant us wisdom.
    Peace;
    -Mark Northey

  2. Shaming is sometimes used in strategic nonviolence to draw attention to the wrongdoer’s/oppressor’s actions and highlight the peaceful response and legitimate needs of the people. The situation you described, though, doesn’t seem to have many parallels to this kind of strategic resistance. Instead, it seems that 1) you are deriving pleasure from speaking your mind and expressing your values (seems like a positive thing) and 2) you feel some sort of satisfaction in shaming others by pointing out their wrong behavior and by asserting your moral superiority (hmm, maybe not so positive.) If you are enjoying being more assertive and expressing your opinions, why not try doing so in a way that is both respectful and boundary-setting? That kind of communication might actually get someone to change their behavior, which I’m assuming (though I could be wrong) that might be your ultimate goal? For example: “I’m upset that you’re parked in the fire lane. It could cause a dangerous situation if there is an emergency. Please don’t do it again.” It’s interesting that you are choosing to spend the precious hours of life waiting to catch people doing some fairly trivial bad thing- all so you can correct them. Is it that important, necessary or fun? Does it fit with you values and goals in life? Might there be some other activity you could do, that puts you in touch with your newly found assertive voice, that is more aligned with your values and goals? Those are the thoughts that came up….

  3. I too work (volunteer) in Restorative Justice & shame can be a great teacher, but also a real block to learning. I do see it as something one generally does not want to cultivate.
    But “speaking truth to power” is important I think. When I see people idling their vehicle, I realize that many would not know that it takes more fuel to idle longer than 10 seconds than it does to restart the car. Also, many do not realize how toxic the exhaust is. So I sometimes go up and just ask if people know that first fact. Some people thank me for reminding them; once some young men sped off swearing at me… But I doubt they will forget that someone cared, next time they idle…
    In the example you cite, it might be interesting to ask a question, like, “Did you intend to park so that you blocked the fire lane?”
    I think drawing attention to acts that undermine respect and compassion is important and thank you for taking up that challenge. love & best wishes, Jan

  4. Your examples strike me more as moments of questioning. Questioning an action is something that has become very unCanadian. We have deemed it rude and intrusive. Questioning, especially selfish behaviour is essential in caring for others. Especially when it is done loudly. It creates moments of accountability, and makes people think. If this has the added bonus of giving you pleasure well than I guess its a win win. When I do it I usually walk away with a bit of an adreniline rush, and at the end of the day if we’ve challenged each other to think beyond ourselves it has to be a win.

  5. This guilt that you lay, I have a problem with. We each have our journey that none of the rest of us have travelled to this moment in time. It is as unique as one show flake from another.
    To guide anyone to an understanding of the domino affect of their actions, one must first know their journey, or at least part of it.
    If that man in the car had stopped and shown you that there were painkillers in that little bag for his terminally ill wife, and this was the first place he could stop and rush to the pharmacy to save seconds on getting them back to her…. Would that change your shaming of him?
    Would that shift the shame / guilt back to you, especially in front of those silently watching your outburst?
    We each have our journey. As one who no longer accepts others placing guilt in my journey as a gift, I do my best to see past the actions and look for the human spirit. Then, I can forgive without even saying anything.
    Yes, there are extreme examples that would have broader discussion. But I address only the meal you place before me.
    Our own peace will bring its own rewards to others and spread the one thing we need more across the ages and into the future… Compassion.

  6. You are not shaming the downtrodden. You are not misusing your power/privilege. You are helping open the eyes and ears of those who might have become blind or deaf. That is an encouragement to all who see/hear. And I think it would help if the final word you yell at the top of you lungs as they speed away is “GOD LOVES YOU!!!”

  7. Dear Jarem. I know you to be a man of great faith. I believe that faith will guide you. If you feel true peace in your heart when you play “the shame game”…then shame on, my friend. Xo

    • You are right that our intentions matter. They are not everything and we can do great damage with good intentions. But I are correctly shining a light on the motivations of the heart. Thanks.

  8. Hmm. As someone who has found it hard to speak up throughout my life, who has been one of those that remain silent, I can tell you that my inability/choice to speak up has brought me a lot of shame over the years. But I accept that I have my reasons for often staying silent and I usually remember to grant myself compassion and grace. I am happy to hear that you are becoming unafraid to speak up and if I were witnessing you doing so, I would be rooting for you secretly inside. As I grow older I find that I am beginning to care less and less about what others may think. And now that I have a toddler I am learning to speak up for him. But I still tie myself in knots sometimes.

    • You might like these Neil Young lyrics:
      Did he give me the gift of voice
      so some could silence me?
      Did he give me the gift of vision
      not knowing what I might see?
      Did he give me the gift of compassion
      to help my fellow man?

      When God made me.
      When God made me.
      When God made me.

  9. Dear Jarem,
    (Re-wrriten… doing justice to myself)
    Are you ashamed if I love you ? Are you ashamed if I tell you that it is because I love you, and because you are my friend, that I dare to speak truth to you ? If I would not do so, would it still be friendship ?
    None of us is good enough to avoid being chastised here and there… And I even think it is nothing but solidarity to be ready for it. If we all had or would have the courage to stand a good lesson – softly given – when needed, the world would be such a better place. And not only because it is this way among others that we get a chance to improve ourselves, and at that a good chance to do better, or because we can each and all do better, but because we need to do it (just that: to progress by helping each other, in rightheousness as in wrongdoing, big or small): TOGETHER!
    There is an another way to see this (if it is still needed)… Oh yes, once in while something unpleasant is done to us. And oh yes, a feeling of revenge may arise. Well as Gandhi said, he kept his anger until he could do justice out of it, so I keep my (needs of ?) revenges until I can express them with full love, until something will come up that will make the other person a better person ? Is that possible ? And getting fair to true results at that ? Well in fact, this is how it works: Wanting that person to suffer exactly what she made you suffer is a bit unethical but nothing unfair while wanting her to suffer more is mean and out of question. Correct ? But there kight be a possibility to do something better for that person (even if it means some chastizing. At the best, for that person to see exactly what she did, by almost suffering it but still getting much better off, or better, if she can come to that realization but without any suffering, then this is love. Or at least consciousness raising.
    I now have two things to confess.
    If my mom would catch any child giving a slap or a blow to another child, she would take that very hitting arm or hand of the hitting child, and turn it around to hit him with hit, (usually gently) hitting the very own face of that hitting child with his own hand. I know very few children who did not get the point of not hitting others after being hit with their own hand… I must confess, I learned a bit of the hard way, an unhurting or maiming blow but hard enough to have meaning. And once was enough ! I still sometimes use the trick, though I only give a warning blow, that does not hit. If it is unsufficient, then depending on age a do a moral lesson on integrity, avoiding hurt, golden rule or simply I ask to the child to hit me, instead. A powerful lesson too Never seen it happen !!! Worse, I sometimes blame the weak. “how can you dare having this person hit you and tolerate her becoming violent … ?” No this is too far, prevention is better, caresses are a big part of life and we all need lessons and share regarding that. Thanks for the un-hitting hug !
    I’ll also confess one of my own street habits. I am a smile cultivator. Too many people, not all and not everywhere, forget or can’t wear a smile while they walks the streets. It requires caution and a lot of empathy, but just walking gently up to them and asking for a smile, if the smile you freely give in exchange, in advance, is deep, honest and let’s say as pure as may be… is a fine practice. It is immensly rare that you will not get a smile in return.
    Spreading joy is a nice habit, but there is a part of selfishness and healing in it too (plus the pleasure of the simle and making people happy), that is that looking at unsmiling people really depresses me… So I walk the virtuous circle trying to make us all happy.
    Now thank you Jared, me too I walk the streets for justice (I am even a lawyer, and have a few special non-violent or peacebuilding tools related to that), so I am capable of burning the shame on someone (part of the human rights process is a shame and blame process; I am not so convinced but at least word is spoken), so the idea is going beyound the shame and blame (nothing in itself) to reach a proactive stage (with no burden added) towards better or more conscious behavior. But by now, and reading you dear Jared, I’v found a new way, more gentle and peaceful to address these persons in need of someone to help them do right or better. First I’ll ask for that smile, and then I’ll gently speak the problem, saying how I and others are affected and would be pleased if doing better could be done.
    See … every single time I practice the smile call (at that is almost daily) I do get better at it, and now I reach the stage where I am free and certain enough about it to be happy to receive input from others, yours indeed. Thank you.
    I am sure we should’ve have put forgivness and learning from each other in peace into the world (UN) 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. However, more justice, associated with peace, is in them (goal 16). We are living exemples of it.
    Thanks again, I love you.
    And please live long and healthy my very dear friend and indeed do keep practising loving justice.
    And if your family can’t cope with it (at least the dog can), let the process mature a bit, and they might see the point. (But notice that witnesses sometimes perturbate the process, making it harder or disperssing the attention, etc. so the ones that are with you have somehow to agree either about the wrong or better, with the redress process and its manners). I suppose I lost a wife a that, and my girl is not always in favour of adressing unknown people, so I listen to her intuitions and moods, because other times she adds a humor of her own. Plus doing it with a child brings much more mercy and care as people are less eager to retaliate or speak back at you in presence of children.
    Enough of that, and by the way the cover is ok… in my eyes.
    Yours
    Christophe

    • Thank you for your loving words. Gandhi’s examples are constantly in me – provoking, encouraging and correcting me. Blessing on your journey.

  10. Dear Jarem,
    Are you ashamed if I love you ? Are you ashamed if I tell you that it us because I love you and because you are my friend that I dare to speak truth to you ? If I wouldn’t do so, it would still be friendship ?
    None of us is good enough to avoid being chastised here and there… And I even think, it is nothing but solidarity to be ready for it. And if we all we have or would have the courage to stand a good lesson – softly given – when needed, the world would be such a better place, and not only because we get a chance to improve and at that a good chance to that better, or because we can all do better, but because we need to do it, just that to progress by helping each both in right or wrong: together !
    There is way another to see this (is still needed)… Oh yes, once in while something unpleasant is done to us, and oh yes, a feeling of revenge may arise. Well, as Gandhi said he kept his anger until he could do justice out of it; I keep my revenges until I can expres them with full love and that something will come up that will make the other person a better person ? Is that possible ? And getting results ? Well in fact, this how it works. Wanting that person to suffer exactly what she made you suffer, is a bit unethical but nothing unfair, while wanting her to suffer more is mean and out of question. Correct ? Now is there is a possibility, for that person to see exactly what she did, by almost suffering it but still (much) getting better off, if they can realization but without any suffering, this is love. Or at least consciousness raising.
    I now have two things to confess.
    If my mom would catch any child giving a slap or a blow to another child, she would take that very arm or hand of the hitting child, and turn it around to hit with hit (usually gently) the very own face of that hitting child. I know very few children who did not get the point of not hitting other after being hit with their own hand…
    I’ll confess one of my own street habits. I am a smile cultivator. Too many people, not all and not everywhere, forget or can’t wear a smile while they walks the streets. It requires caution and a lot of empathy, but just walking gently up to them and asking for a smile, if the smile you freely give in exchange, in advance, is deep, honest and let’s say as pure as may be… It is immensly rare that you will get a smile in return. Spreading joy is a nice habit, but there is a part selfishness and healing in it too (plus the pleasure of the simle and making people happy), that is that looking at unsmiling people really depresses me… So I walk the virtuous circle trying to make us all happy.
    Now thank you Jared, me too I walk the streets for justice (I am even a lawyer, and have special peacebuilding tools related to that) and I am capable of burning the shame on someone, the idea being going beyound the shame (nothing in itself) to reach better or more conscious behavior. But by now, and reading, I’v found a new way, more gentle and peaceful to address these person in need of someone to help them do right or better. First I’ll ask for a smile, and then I’ll speak the problem, saying how I and others are affected and would be pleased if done better.
    See, every time I practice the smile call I get better at it, and now I reach the stage where i am free and certain enoug about to be happy to receive input from others, yours indeed. Thank you.
    I am sure we should’ve have put forgivness and learning from each other in peace into the world (UN) 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. However, more justice is in them. We are living exemples of it.
    Please live long and healthy my very dear and indeed do keep practising loving justice.
    And if your family can’t cope with it (at least the dog can), let the process mature a bit, and they might see the point. (But notice that witnesses sometimes perturbate the process, making it harder or disperssing the attention, etc. so the ones that are with you have somehow to agree either with the wrong or better, with the redress process). I suppose I lost a wife a that, and my girl is not in favour of adressing unknown people, though sometimes she also add humor of her own and doing it with a child brings more mercy as people are less eager to retaliate or speak back at you in presence of children.
    Enough of that, and by the way the cover is ok… in my eyes.
    Yours
    Christophe

  11. I think there’s a difference between pointing to/calling out a wrong-doing, and personally attacking the person. Stating facts in bringing a wrong action to light is right, abusing a person is wrong. I suspect your feelings and inner thoughts are (understandably) rattled against the person because after all, it’s the person who did wrong (and maybe has a bad attitude about it). But if you keep your spoken words and your own actions focussed on the wrong action itself, I’d say it’s ok. Non violent resistance has a noble tradition. Not speaking up can sometimes effectively be colluding – so keep speaking up!

    • I like this advice: engage, speak but with non-violent resistance that does not crush the person!! Thank you for this.

  12. I am proud of you for standing up for justice and pointing out injustice, and finding your voice in doing so. Fire lanes and street closures are good examples to point out the entitlement and privilege others feel but there is a bigger picture. |I know you know about the bigger picture so I won’t list all the issues we need to find our voice on. I am not sure about shaming because it only seems to work with people that have a sense of ethics and morality. It may produce a good outcome in a community context where people share basic ethics but in dealing with the larger issues such as the gap between rich and poor, I don’t think it works at all. My big concern is something else you said: all the people that remain silent in the face of someone who has the courage to speak up for justice.

    • As you may know, when the people in Chile were nonviolently resisting the oppression of their government (an example with great gaps between rich and poor) they resistance declared an evening of protest. No one was allowed out of their houses by a government ban so the someone had the brillant idea that at the declared hour of protest in the evening, they would invite the country to bang their pots and pans together from within their own homes. When the hour struck at first there was no sound but little by little the pots gave voice to those who suffered in silence. Their silence and complicity was broken (a bit) by the banging of pots. What a song. What a beautiful way to help find their voice and courage in face of standing up for justice.

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