The Positive Side of Shame
Shaming can give the weak greater power. It can be used as a tool to encourage structural changes of institutions, organizations, and powerful individuals by exposing a transgressor to public disapproval.
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Shame is a universal experience. Shame enforces adherence to beneficial social norms.
Shaming is a tool and can be used for good or evil. We should use it when the outcome has a greater benefit for society, and when formal means of punishment have been exhausted. Shaming should ultimately lead to reform and reintegration and act as a deterrent against bad behavior.
Guilt is a private feeling of regret about something you did, and the discomfort leads to self-regulation regardless of exposure.
Shaming is about the possibility of being exposed to an audience.
The audience responsible for the shaming should be concerned with the transgression. The audience should be the victim. For instance, second-hand smoke impacts the health of non-smokers.
There should be a big gap between the desired and actual behavior. The smaller the gap, the less effective the shaming will be. The degree of bad relative to the group matters.
For instance, the worse the level of pollution for a corporation is, the more people will shame it.
Shaming is most effective when the only possible avenue for punishment would otherwise go ignored. This triggers our sense of fury at injustice.
If a nation commits major human rights abuses, it is difficult for another nation to use the law to punish them. Exposing and drawing attention to the violations may shame the nation into stopping.
The transgressor should be sensitive and sympathetic to the source of shaming.
Shaming an organic grocery store for selling unethically produced meat would be far more effective than shaming a fast-food chain for the same thing.
The audience should trust the source of the shaming. The shaming should come from a reputable, trustworthy, non-hypocritical source, otherwise, the impact will be minimal.
Shaming should be directed where possible benefits are greatest. We all have a limited amount of interest in shaming. It should be used only for the most severe transgressions; otherwise, people will become desensitized, and shaming will lose its effectiveness.
The threat of shaming can be more useful than the act itself to reform behavior. It may be helpful to implement regularly. For instance, an annual report on the companies guilty of the most pollution works better than a once-off.
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