Shame on Shame? Franny Anunobi

Issue: Should the method of using shame to discourage and punish wrong behavior be an accepted means of maintaining obedience?

The query above is a concerning reality that has insinuated itself into schools, work environments, and social practices globally. The use of shame has taken on several forms, with variations in appearance depending on its setting and place in history.

Observing Different Forms of Shame Discipline

Use Historically

Using shame is definitely nothing new, and has been used to inspire adherence to social structures and social standards. The use of the pillory/stocks, the public shaming devices used in the images here, dates back to during and before the 19th century.

Use in the Modern Era

Disciplining youth • Though varying in appearance, shame has been in consistent use on adolescents all over the world. Implementations of dress codes in schools are a common and mainstream source of shaming, and, in recent years, an increase in the use of technology and social media has enhanced the visibility of public embarrassment.

Shame in the workplace • Shaming is not confined to use on adolescents, but even extends to the realm of workplace. It is a prominent factor in the work environment; the using of blackmailing and blackballing has become commonplace. Criminal records are used for the sake of blackmail, and false rumors are even spread to generate suspicion about a targeted individual. The dread of being shamed or blackballed often causes to the compromise of ethics and employee integrity, as employees find themselves unable to stand up to their employers because there job and future ability to find work may be put at risk.

Use in FIlm and Literature

Anne of Green Gables One of the most memorable characters in film history, Anne Shirley, faces a classic form of student shaming during the scene in the video above. Her teacher not only shouts at her with the entire class as witnessed audience, but forces her to stand at the chalk board and scribble out the words: "Anne Shirley has a very bad temper."

The Scarlet Letter • This novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an obvious example of a story that details the consequence of using public shaming. The various instances and methods of shaming the protagonist, Hester Prynne, seem endless, from her public procession the the scaffold, which is an event that all the townspeople take part of, to the literal badge of shame she is forced to wear. The reader can see the extents one might go to to avoid the embarrassment that Hester dealt with, as her counterpart, Reverend Dimmesdale, stays silent to his sin for many years thereafter.

Why is it Used?

Despite the varying forms, shame is used with some common intentions in mind.

  • Purpose: The nature of shame poses a threat of public humiliation, which prevents many people from acting in manners that would earn them a tarnished reputation.
  • Looking at it from an objective angle, shame is beneficial to the implementer because it plays into a fundamental aspect of human nature: fear. Because of the largely common concern for maintaining approval by the public eye, people often avoid actions that may give reason to cause them embarrassment.

So... Is it a Problem?

Based on the information above, I do think that using shame as a means of establishing a sense of fear that results in obedience harms more than it helps.

Exudes a message promoting extreme adherence to conceived ideals • People are being trained to act based on the standards of other people, rather than developing and defining beliefs for themselves.

Inspires fear • Rather than educating about to the difference between right and wrong and cultivating and understanding of the two, using shaming discipline prompts action based on fear; acting in this manner prevents people from internalizing the reasons why they should act a specific way. In short, this means that through shame discipline, we nurture a society in which people act according to what their fears rather than their internal instincts and opinions.

Diminishes the sense of self and reliance on conscience • It weakens human integrity because rather than letting their conscience and values shape their actions, we are teaching people to act based on the natural tendency of avoiding humiliation. The simple nature of an action should be enough to guide our decisions. Our own mind should allow us to understand what is good and what is not, and the overwhelming guilt of doing somethings against our good conscience should motivate us to keep our integrity.

Can be exploited for personal gain • Shame is often used as a result of the "eliminationist instinct", in which people feel more powerful and less threatened when they are able to threaten others. As seen in The Scarlet Letter and in several societies in real life, the powerfully members often act hypocritically and punish easy targets to elevate themselves in the public eye, as well as their own.

Based on the evidence and reasoning detailed in this article, I believe that using shame to achieve obedience is unacceptable because it trains people to act for the wrong reasons.

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