Shame vs. love

“I think we will be much more powerful as activists if we can create conditions for the perpetrators of injustice to feel safe in seeing the truth Rather than taking an attitude of, “You are an ignorant and morally inferior person who needs to be shamed and corrected,” we could take an attitude of, “I know you, like I, are a caring and intelligent person. Here is some information to help you act more deeply on that care.”

–Charles Eisenstein

Charles Eisenstein tells a personal story with some interesting & insightful implications in a recent blog post. He was confronted by the police for taking his kids out onto a frozen river and charged with “disorderly conduct.” He points out the social meaning of this charge as part of the whole process of intimidating us into following social norms, and describes the process of humiliation and shaming that goes on in much of our society’s normative behavior, from child-rearing and schooling to punishment of criminals.

He says this shaming is really counter-productive, because it can drive people to express negative feelings in even more harmful ways as well as force them into defensive ideologies that justify their negative attitudes and behaviors. A much more effective approach is to establish commonality with people and help them to acknowledge their mistakes, as suggested in quote (above) from the article.

This reminds me of the truth embedded in Lojong #12, “Drive all blames into one,” which recommends that one accept the blame for anything that happens, because by accepting the blame on yourself, you open up space for the other persons involved to see and admit to their own culpability in the situation.

Charles says further, “…if we believe in the fundamental dignity of all people – then the problem is not only that we use the tools of shame, humiliation, and punishment for the wrong ends; the means itself is wrong, and it is inseparable from the end of domination and control.”

Discarding shame and punishment in favor of acceptance and true communication is the action of love. It can only come when we discover within ourselves that deep connection with the other that arises with dissolving the boundaries of self.