SHAME and the Breakdown of Our Society
What we need to do is reintroduce more SHAME into society.
Several months ago we were sitting on a panel with many other local community organizations when one gentleman stood up and shared about the historical breakdown of the family unit and how there aren’t enough repercussions in society “about the bad things that people do”. In his mind, by creating a culture of SHAME, where “deadbeats and scumbags” (his words) are reprimanded and called out for their mistakes, they would stop doing those things and making continual “bad” choices. After he said that we looked at each other and said,
We don’t agree!
We believe, contrary to what he asserted, that creating more SHAME only creates more destructive behavior. Until we as a society start to model a different way—a better way—of reacting to destructive behaviors, destructive behaviors will only continue.
In the work that we do, SHAME is a common problem and theme conveyed and communicated by so many people:
We hear it from the person considering getting a divorce in a dysfunctional relationship, to the college student who feels called to a certain career and life path that is not necessarily in line with their parents, to the people who feel as if all that is pointed out to them are their weaknesses and never their strengths, to the person who has been unemployed for a long time, to the family who can’t “keep up with the Jones” and whose children know it.
Story after story after story of people who are told in one way or another, either directly or by society’s norms, that they aren’t good enough, that they don’t measure up, that they need to be fixed or healed.
But what would it look like to create a society of love and grace for all, instead? A society in which the cultural norm is nothing but respect and compassion, one in which every person is valued for who they are and for their own unique gifts, their own creativity, their own goodness.
Yes, we know that we all have our own imperfections and weaknesses. We know that we all, from one day to the next, make poor decisions that hurt others and ourselves. But we also know that the way to overcome those problems, and to work towards healing and growth, is NOT accomplished through SHAMING or criticizing or condemning.
One of our spiritual fathers and role models, Fred Rogers, used to believe and assert, and now we believe and assert it often, too,
There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love if you heard their story.
Everyone has a backstory. Everyone has been hurt. Everyone has been wounded. But every day when we hear those stories of hurt, pain, sorrow, and suffering, and have the privilege of coming to learn what lies beneath the surface of someone’s life, it is hard for us not to have sympathy, or empathy, or a deeper understanding about why they do some of the things they do.
The truth is, a society built on love and grace, instead of SHAME, is a society, instead of inhibiting us from being their best selves, actually encourages our strengths to be enhanced. And it enables us to work from them, instead.