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I hate shaming. In every flavor I’ve encountered, it’s a form of psychological torture that makes the shamer feel righteous more than it accomplishes anything useful. It perpetuates based on the premise that if people feel bad about themselves for some THING, then they will change that THING to escape that bad feeling. Yet, every single human being I’ve ever met can provide anecdotal evidence that this premise is flawed.

It might sometimes work, but it often doesn’t, and occasionally results in even more extreme instances of that THING. What it almost always causes is an attempt to hide the THING.

Shame

Dude, it’s okay to love soup.

For example, I think there’s often a notion of shame associated with masturbation. Whether it’s parents saying we shouldn’t touch ourselves or peers seeing it as less acceptable than having sex or a religious organization literally decrying it as shameful, I see the association happen often. I’m sure there are some faithful zealots who do, thereafter, abstain from masturbation. It is humanly possible. But I’m willing to bet that most of the time, people never stop masturbating–they just hide it. They make it a secret.

I don’t think keeping quiet about your masturbatory practices is a big deal. But what if the action being shamed is something you can’t control, like being queer? Well, look around and see.

What if it’s something potentially dangerous, like having violent tendencies? If a kid is shamed for something like skinning a cat or whatever, he doesn’t stop having those urges, he just hides his actions from view. Thus someone who might benefit from medical help hides that need and the problems can escalate. Perhaps to the point of shooting up a school.

Even if it’s something that’s oppositional to a socially liberal idea like equality for women, shaming the negative actions aren’t helpful. If a politician were publicly shamed for, say, opposing equal pay for women — that’s actually hard to pull off in a society that isn’t mostly feminist yet, but I digress — he might publicly apologize. But I can’t help think the shaming wouldn’t change their mind or attitude in the slightest; they’d just move the opposition to secret dealings and confusing wording in proposed legislation.

My hypothesis is that visible evidence of psychological drives + public shaming of those drives = hiding evidence of those same thoughts, feelings, and actions. If somebody with credentials in psychology or psychiatry (perhaps with a research concentration) would care to support or debunk my opinion, I’d welcome it.

But if shaming doesn’t make the world a better place, what does? I think that people are driven to say, feel, or do things because they experience some psychological reward. They feel pleasure or justification or illicit thrill or contentment or righteousness or some other positive tingle in their heads for their behavior that measures greater on an internal merit scale than the shaming does. Not in all cases, of course. Perhaps for some people, you can shame away biting fingernails or picking noses. (I still suspect it would continue, just in private, but maybe.)

Then to counter some THING that you think is wrong, you have to convince the perpetrator that a mutually exclusive NOT-THING will result in greater psychological reward.

Despite some qualms I have about the “It Gets Better” campaign, I think it’s beneficial for that approach. Rather than making kids (queer ones in particular) feel bad about wimping out or crumbling to peer pressure or suicidal thoughts or any other sentiment that can be phrased as, “You shouldn’t blah blah blah,” the campaign says, “Here’s why you should survive.”

I vividly recall the sensation of being made to feel bad about myself because I already felt bad about myself. “You don’t have confidence? What’s wrong with you?” “Yeah, yeah, you’re fat. It doesn’t help to whine about it!” “You hate being single? Maybe if you quit crying about it, you wouldn’t be!” Those aren’t exact quotes, but they are pretty much how I remember what I’ve heard.

On the other hand, when I’ve been told, “You should try this; it’s great!” or “When I changed to this, I felt so much better!” or “God, you’re so sexy, Paul!” I felt much better about myself and was able to make positive changes towards being a person I want to be, enjoying the experiences I wanted to have. Okay, that last quote is made up, but I assume it would probably work.

To sum up: If you feel some person is doing wrong in this world and you actually want to make things better, try showing them an alternative that both makes the world better and rewards them personally for doing so.

Bribery’s such a crass word; let’s call it positive motivation!

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About Paul Roth

A vegetarian, agnostic, lindy-hopping, dog-loving tv-watcher who likes to read his own words.
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2 Responses to Let’s Be Shameless

  1. Sam says:

    What about racists? Don’t get me wrong… I want my racists out in the open as well but somehow I doubt I can convince someone who’s racist to be kind to the race they’re being biased against.

    • Paul Roth says:

      Even racists. I’ve read articles showing how kids aren’t born with any sort of racism — it’s taught them and engrained in them by their family and society. I totally believe it. You have to shut down a part of your mind to believe that someone shouldn’t be treated human just because their skin is different.

      Shaming someone for it just makes racists rile all the harder against changing because the shame tells them they should feel bad about the truth about themselves. Letting bigots know that they’ll be better people and feel better about themselves and get to know wonderful people who will like them if they let go of their racism, I think, is better than trying to make them feel bad.

      Mind you, I have no problems with legally preventing racists from leveraging anything against other people. Their feelings and development into better people takes a backseat to making sure people’s rights and freedoms aren’t infringed upon because of color or ethnicity.

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