The Shame of it All

There is an understandable temptation to shame the perpetrators of the attempted insurrection earlier this week at our nation’s capital. Perhaps even more tempting is the desire to shame all those in power whose rhetoric fueled the eruption of violence we saw. To shame any such person is to forcibly impose on them the label of sub-human (usually with much more graphic phrasing) and to unilaterally declare them unworthy of humane treatment. To shame someone is to humiliate them. There is, of course, a reactive desire for retribution when we feel assaulted or offended and we feel very tempted to “get even” with the perpetrator and we make a case (publicly or in the privacy of our our thoughts) for the justification of the “payback” to be delivered. The Grand Fantasy, of course, it that this will somehow be corrective and healing for us or at least make us “feel better” (translation: a massage session for our ego) and that it will “teach them a lesson” and will “make them think twice before they act that way again.”

Someone from another world might look at us and ask: “How’s that been working for you humans?” I think if we’re honest, the answer is that it isn’t working for us. I suspect that we keep at it because we think it “should work” (because we’re the smartest people we’ve ever met!). So we keep punishing each other and wonder in amazement when those being punished “don’t get it.”

Here’s the thing: Shaming does not produce enlightenment. Shaming does correlate to violence. Significantly so. I contend that this is the case because shaming is violence. It is a direct attack on the human spirit embodied within every one of us (no matter how obscured it might be by multiple layers of “baggage” we have accumulated over time) and attacking anyone in this way does not induce them to become well behaved. When any of us is in enough pain we will tend to either lash out at others or lash inwardly against ourselves. We saw lashing out in Washington, D.C.

I am not in any way condoning or making excuses for the would-be insurrectionists or those who egged them on. I am adamantly opposed to their actions and beliefs. People, however, are not the problem. The problem is the problem. So what’s The Problem? Here’s my answer: The Problem is the belief that violence in whatever form is an effective way to resolve conflicts or heal injuries. Certainly we in America have romanticized and relentlessly promoted the fiction that “violence works.” This fiction permeates our politics, our economics, our legal system, and our popular entertainment just to list a few examples. We have been swimming in this fiction for far too long. We have learned to revel in the defeat of the “other” and to glorify ourselves in our “winning.” This may serve the pleasure center of the National Ego and our little individual ones but it does not serve our actual wellness as members of the Human Family.

It stops when we stop it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.