The digital world has given a voice to people on a scale never seen before. At its worst, it is a weapon of mass destruction. The digital world has amplified slander, intensified bullying, and masticated reputations like a lion chewing a piece of meat. Shame or shaming has become a digital centerpiece that can destroy lives and livelihoods.
No one is immune to shaming. Whether it be the stay-at-home mum, a woman period-shamed at work, or the 70-year-old female body shamed at the gym . One tweet, one article, or a post captures the fat-shaming, slut-shaming, or career shaming that runs rapidly across the globe.
Public shaming has been synonymous with the justice system dating back centuries where petty criminals were sentenced to public floggings, drawing in large crowds and binding communities to ensure justice was served. Today, public shaming continues as a form of punishment. Whether it requires shoplifters to carry signs stating they stole, or a Californian state website that contains the names of people who don’t pay their taxes or gossip in a workplace, shaming has such a scale and speed that the results can be soul-destroying.
In a TED Talk “When Online Shaming Goes Too Far” Jon Ronson shares the story of Justine Sacco who sent an ill-considered tweet in 2013 that blew up her life between her flight from London to South Africa. A 64-character tweet and with only 170 Twitter followers, ignited an international feeding frenzy of online mob mentality expressing collective rage, her name synonymous with racism, her hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet waiting for her public hanging. As a former senior director of corporate communications, she was to find her fate via a Twitter post advising of her termination. Justine was publicly sentenced and hung out to dry for a holiday tweet that had no intent behind it.
Women’s behavior is still subject to much scrutiny, and if the narrative is not adhered to, then shaming is activated. Despite the feminist movement, slut-shaming continues in great force around the globe. In August 2018, Rachel Hundley, a council member in Sonoma, California received a threatening email accusing her of immoral and unethical behavior and demanding she drop out of the city council race or a website with photos of her from Burning Man would be released.
Serena Williams shamed on social media for her supposedly “large” and “masculine” appearance. Amy Cuddy gets your “power pose” on her Ted Talk which originated from noticing a gender grade gap among her students at Harvard Business School. Despite her critics and shameful attacks on her and her research publicly, she intended to help empower women in the workplace, even little girls.
Let’s delve into the good, the bad and the uglies of shame.
Shame is that deep, painful feeling attached to how you negatively see yourself. You identify yourself as bad, mad, flawed or less than what you ought to be. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. Here is your opportunity – embrace that you are human and experience shame or embrace the first step of the 12-step recovery program, “l am a sociopath.”
In the book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” When you delve in deeper, Brown differentiates between guilt and shame. Guilt being “l did something bad”, shame equating to “I am bad.” Shame embodies blame, and when you step into that moment, you deflect all responsibility.
Shame Can Be An Early Warning System
Shame tells you when you have hurt someone. When you have crossed a boundary that violates a person’s dignity. It grabs your attention, and if you pause long enough, you have an opportunity to correct your behavior. I’m sure you have heard yourself in the workplace in that fleeting moment– “You are so self-centered”, “You only care about yourself and not the team”, “You took our idea and made it be your own”, or “Sweetheart you are too big for your boots”. Sounding familiar.