Friends, I am furious. I try very hard to keep topics mixed up and not to dwell on one for more than one article at a time, but tonight, I need to get this out. It’s not exactly about pejorative language, but it’s in that same vein: Shaming. We are watching people being shamed and mocked for their looks, their actions in the past, their race, their gender, and their religion with alarming regularity. So much so, I fear we are being desensitized to it. I am trying to follow my own advice, and am not watching news. It doesn’t matter, because I run IOI solely using social media. Every time I sit down at the computer, there it is. So my next step is to do something different with the feelings, so I do what works best for me: I write about it.
I have a real problem with shaming people. I don’t believe it’s productive in any context. Shame holds people back and keeps them stuck. Shame focuses on problems and not solutions. A person is made to feel shame about something that has already happened, and therefore cannot go back and fix. It is ultimately a power play.
The person doing the shaming has authority over the person being shamed. Even if it’s not a direct position, they are invoking an authoritative position and asserting dominance. It really plays to the lowest common denominator. Being shamed makes it extremely difficult to fight back. It puts the person being shamed in the position of having to defend themselves against their own insecurities. That’s the thing about shame: it’s exploitive. We know what the skeletons in our own closet are. We know our weaknesses, our faults, our failings. By virtue of them being there in the first place, we are already put at a disadvantage. But then someone flings the closet door wide open, and shines a spotlight on that dark corner. In a recent article I talked about how important it is to choose your words with care. Exposing someone to shame intentionally is absolutely cruel. Let’s look at what’s communicated: First, the words themselves bring to light something the person doing the shaming knows the ashamed person doesn’t want seen. But I think the second part of what’s getting communicated is even worse. The underlying message is that the person being shamed has no value. How inhumane can you get? Shaming involves taking something about someone, something that they feel their absolute worst about, and tells them that they are actually even worse than they had feared. Why in the world would anyone choose to do this to someone else? To me, it makes the person doing the shaming look worse than they could ever make their intended target look.
There’s just no reason for it. I’m not saying we all have to hold hands and sing campfire songs, but there’s a whole lot of increments in between these two extremes. If there’s really a need to confront someone about past behavior, there are so many ways to do it that aren’t harmful. If you're really doing it to be helpful, choose helpful words.
I am deeply concerned. People I care about (This includes my IOIers) are talking about being harmed by being exposed to shaming tactics which are so prevalent right now. Past traumas are surfacing that have spent a long time in the dark. Trauma responses don't just disappear as quickly as they came, and can have lasting, even dangerous, effects. We’ve all got to be careful. We are all going to have to pick ourselves up and live our lives with one another long after the dust has settled. But long after the words have been spoken, the effects will remain. So will the effects of those effects, and so on. Please, treat human beings with care. Even the ones you don’t like. I implore each of you, no matter your politics, religion, race, gender, orientation, ability, or individuality to strive not to harm. Please. Help one another to…