I 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.
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?