Yesterday, Dan Jasper over at Polytical posted some thoughts about shaming and respectful dialogue. As anyone who knows me will guess, I think about the issue of respect and criticism a lot, so this was a subject which grabbed my interest.
I put up a comment (currently awaiting moderation) and wanted to put that comment up here:
Breast milk IS better. The patriarchy IS alive and well. The veto rule IS dangerous. Biblical inerrancy IS illogical. These ideas might be inferior to their counterparts, yet couldn’t that be demonstrated through respectful dialogue, as opposed to shaming?
Sometimes, yes. But not always.
Christopher Hitchens, a personal favorite of mine actually, personally used shame as a tool against representatives of the Catholic Church (during debates with them, in some cases) in addition to rational points. He did not respect the Church, and so why would he act as if he did? In my opinion, Catholic doctrine and actions throughout the world are shameful, and in some cases the people in charge SHOULD be ashamed of what they have done, represent, etc. We should not merely shame them, but sometimes emotion is the key to rational action.
Your seeming dichotomy between respectful dialogue and shaming is problematic, I think. For me, respect is based upon honesty, truth, and a willingness to challenge and be challenged, not merely being nice. Pure rational approaches (if this is what you mean by “respectful dialogue) are not always effective (or affective–HA!). Unless we are to become straw-Vulcans, we have to recognize the relationship between emotions and intelligence, and that people don’t get to conclusions through purely respectful (especially if only rational) dialogue. Sometimes the only way to get through to us is to show us how ridiculous our ideas are by playful mockery, pointing to moral failings in our ideals, etc. In many other cases such tactics are not useful or helpful, but I don’t think shame is never appropriate.
Jealousy is a problem for many, not so much for others. It is not a moral failing, but it is an unfortunate reality for many people. I don’t think anyone should be shamed because they are jealous. I think people should have compassion for the struggle with jealousy. But if someone is not struggling–not trying to improve their relationship with–jealousy (or other emotional realities), then perhaps they are not working as hard as they could to make themselves emotionally healthy people. Is that worthy of being ashamed? No, I don’t think so.
But the measure of a person is not so much what you are given, but what you do with it. If a person who suffers from bouts of jealousy does not confront that problem as best they can, openly and with a desire to actually change it, then perhaps shaming is not appropriate but perhaps transparent disappointment and constructive criticism are appropriate. And the unfortunate reality is that disappointment and criticism cause shame in people–because they actually are ashamed of being ridden with something. That is, sometimes shame is the cause even when it is not the tactic used. So, should we avoid any sort of interactions which might trigger shame, or should we only not intentionally shame?
And if someone is shamed by our attempts at respectful dialogue, should we be ashamed of doing so? This is more complicated than respect/shaming dichotomies. Just some thoughts I had after reading this yesterday. While I agree with many of your points, I think that I disagree with what I perceive as some background assumptions which I see here.
I think that people feel shame quite often not because they were shamed, but because they are ashamed. Thus, it seems that this question of whether we should use shame, while interesting, is not the whole story. Criticism is not using shame, and the post at polytical seems to create ideas which could conflate criticism with shaming, which is problematic.
(sorry for my lack of activity recently. I’ve been feeling sort of depressed recently and am doing what I can to get out of it. Apparently reading polytical.org helps…)