Good Grief, Stop Shaming People! (and Dogs)

Public shaming has been in the spotlight recently via social media; parents making their children (and pets) hold up “shaming signs” for photos and then posting those on Facebook and Instagram for friends and family to view. While the pets may be equipped to move on without any harm done, humans store painful memories internally.

A father of a ten-year-old boy told me today, “I want to shame him. I want him to be sorry for what he did. I want him to learn not to make the mistake again.” 

This father may want his son to be remorseful, but he probably does not want him to be truly ashamed. Shame, the feeling of “I am bad,” is not the same thing as regret, “I made a mistake.”

A woman referencing something she had heard discussed by a group of friends said, “I’m going to start shaming people who put their stinky feet on my seat on airplanes. Then they will learn.” 

But they won’t learn. Not from shaming. If you shame the guy with the stinky feet, you’ll hurt him, but you probably won’t teach him a lesson. He will feel wounded and maybe he will lash out at you. Or perhaps he will chug down a couple of alcoholic drinks on the plane to get rid of the “I am bad” feeling. Or maybe he will buy himself a bag of cookies and binge on those during his stopover. But he won’t be likely to learn.

Remorse teaches regret. If you want others to feel regret, embarrassment and public attacks are not the way. Shame leads to self-loathing; and self-loathing can contribute to addiction, depression, eating disorders and a host of other harmful stuff. Shame is not a good teacher. Not for our children, not for other adults, not for anyone. 

If you hope to correct and unwanted behavior, try these things instead:

Give feedback.
    Feedback is saying, “This is how you your behavior affects others.” Telling someone how their actions affect others is a good way to begin a conversation about changing unwanted behavior.

    Confrontation means telling someone what you really think. “Hey, please don’t put your feet on my chair. I think you’re being very rude.”

Ask for change.
    If someone you know is repeatedly rude or insensitive, tell the person how s/he affects you, and then ask them to change. Saying which behavior you would like to see instead increases the likelihood you’ll see a change.

Be straightforward. Don’t hint.
    Saying what you really mean, in a direct way, can help change behavior. Telling a stranger who cut in line, “Ma’am, the line starts back there. We have been waiting here,” is more likely to get the person to the back of the line than muttering under your breath, “Look at that! Can you believe her nerve?” Most people who are engaging in unwanted behavior are less aware than you may assume. Come right out with it, explain your concerns clearly.

Have the conversation privately.
    Above all, give your feedback and request change in a respectfully private manner. Publicly embarrassing someone for wrongdoing is not necessary, or helpful. Handle the situation the way you would like it handled if the offensive behavior was coming, unknowingly, from you.


Posted on March 9, 2015 .