Our Addiction to Shaming Each Other...
On July 18, 2018, filmmaker Mark Duplass tweeted:
The reaction? Duplass might as well have posted a selfie with Hitler. The social media outrage mafia accused him of befriending and promoting an evil individual (which couldn't be further from the truth). What followed was an apology from Duplass, a couple of tweets from James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy director) defending Duplass, and a few tweets from Ben Shapiro himself (watch Shapiro discuss what led to this tweet here).
Some who claim to be inclusive are anything but when someone steps outside group norms or pre-approved narrative. Harry Potter author JK Rowling recently learned this lesson when she vented about an article referring to biological women as people who menstruate:
The social media outrage mafia called her Voldemort, four letter words, and worse. People said they hoped she got raped and needed to die. Rowling could've better worded her tweet and has history with trans activists, but she didn't deserve what she received. Rowling then responded:
She also posted one of the deepest and most intentional letters I've read in a while. But did her words make a difference? Nah. If the outrage mafia ever reconciled, outrage dies. Peace kills this kind of outrage.
The outrage mafia never forgets and refuses to forgive. Outrage thrives on bitterness.
And by the way, the outrage mafia is comprised of those on the left and the right. Just last week, Christian author and journalist, Jonathan Merritt posted a video on Twitter where he indicated that everyone is welcomed by God (he included those who relate or identify as LGBTQ).
The outrage mafia greeted him with sentiments like he was going to hell, prideful theological jabs, calling him names, and so on. Would Merritt and I disagree on a theology of sexuality? We'd probably agree and disagree on various aspects of sexuality, but I don't know. You see, I haven't had such a conversation with him. Here's what I do know: I've appreciated many of his writings and his love for our common friend, Jarrid Wilson. Furthermore, I refuse to reduce his or anyone else's value down to an agreement over theology... thus, I'm not going to bully or join the public shaming.
Besides cancel culture and outrage, these three examples have something else in common:
One of my favorite authors, Brene Brown defines shame as "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection" (1). I've also heard shame described as:
Guilt--I've done something wrong.
Shame--I am something wrong.
Shame is a lie. It's truly evil. God may leverage guilt from time to time to help us, but He never uses shame.
God never speaks to you through shame--that's not in His character.
While there's much needed conversation happening about how we experience shame, we also must discuss the dangers of shaming others.
Personally, I believe humanity is addicted to public shaming. To some degree, our shaming addiction came in part form the Puritans. Those peeps were experts in shaming people. You can read about some of their methods here and here (while I don't agree with everything these authors say, their work gives a snapshot of public shaming during Puritan times). Today, we've invented new ways to make shaming even more public, like social media. Some Puritans would be proud!
As public shaming continues on social media, please keep the following in mind...
There's Never a Good Reason to Shame People
This past week I've been thinking over and over about why we shame. Here are some reasons I've come up with:
It makes us feel better about our insecurities.
The spotlight is shining on someone else instead of us.
We feel like we're doing God's work.
Maybe we falsely believe we're educating people.
The publicity helps to create or reinforce a meta-narrative.
We see other people shaming someone and we pile on.
Those being shamed don't seem like real people.
I'm sure there are many reasons, but they all fail. At the end of the day, shaming others doesn't honor anyone. Shame never honors anyone... it's sideways energy. It's antithetical to the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Jesus Christ didn't die on the cross for us to sit in the toxicity of shame.
Name me one place in the New Testament where God uses shame to bring someone to Christ or discipline one of His children... SPOILER: He doesn't. And what you might interpret as shame in the New Testament is not the idea of shame as we've come to know it. We should imitate Him and that means a correct reason to shame someone doesn't exist... especially not from us sinful human beings!
Public Shaming Cancels Needed Dialogue
More than most seasons, our society needs dialogue. The book Crucial Conversations defines dialogue as “A discussion between two or more people where the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong" (2). Shame makes dialogue impossible (if not next to impossible to attain).
When someone is shamed, any needed message is usually lost in the chaos of shamers. Public shaming cancels any kind of dialogue or reflection that might need to occur. Why? Consider what happens during shaming:
Too many voices drown the message
Shame distorts needed change
Name-calling makes people defensive
It eliminates due process
Shame eliminates any environment that empowers dialogue
Indeed, more than taking you down the wrong path, shame creates more outrage, anger, depression, strife, etc. It doesn't help.
Bullying never leads to positive life change.
In other words, public shaming and cancel culture make things worse. Shame doesn't result in justice or create authentic activists. In a 2019 youth conference, President Obama said the following about social media cancel culture and public shaming:
This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff... You should get over that quickly. This is accelerated by social media, there is this sense sometimes of: "The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people." Like, if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, cause, "Man, you see how woke I was, I called you out." That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change (3).
Bravo, Mr. President! And spot on.
When the public shaming begins, no one listens to what's helpful. Perhaps a person does need to learn a lesson, correct a statement, reflect on an action, make an apology, engage in dialogue, drop assumptions, or rethink a decision... but bullying doesn't lead anyone to those places. Shame actually cancels everybody.
Shame Victimizes Everyone
The outrage mafia is fueled by pure emotion and thus, isn’t consistent. When we're passionate about an issue, there's something in us that has trouble differentiating between a person's actions/words and the actual person. So, what do we do? We attack the person through social media, blog posts, and in other ways. The attack makes us feel good, at least for a little bit. Shame can’t distinguish between those who agree or disagree, so everyone involved and nearby become vitcimized.
Besides everything the New Testament says about kindness and helpful words, Paul says in Romans 2:4, "He has been very kind and patient, waiting for you to change, but you think nothing of his kindness. Perhaps you do not understand that God is kind to you so you will change your hearts and lives."
If God's kindness leads me to repentance, shouldn't my kindness towards others lead them to God?
Oh, that we all believed this to be true. Again, my lack of kindness in shaming hurts everyone.
Recently, Chris Hodges, senior pastor of the Church of the Highlands (Birmingham, AL) "liked" some social media posts from a leader who is, what some would consider, a political conservative extremist. Chris has since apologized for his actions, but the school board and public housing authority voted to cut all ties with the church to the point that church volunteers couldn't volunteer in public housing. The church's campuses could no longer meet in schools. Also, the church was no longer able to aid the public through the city when they had "provided free mentoring, community support groups and faith, health and social service activities at the Housing Authority of Birmingham Division’s nine public housing communities. The church did not receive any money for the services" (4).
Now, please don't miss the point. I'm not arguing about whether or not Chris should have "liked" the social media comments. Rather, public shaming and cancel culture swiftly arrived and issued a sentence that punished everyone. Whether we identify as a Christian or not, we all can do better than what shaming does to everyone.
For further in-depth study of this topic, I wholeheartedly recommend my friend Ed Stetzer's book Christians in the Age of Outrage. Stetzer warns us, "Cancel culture eventually comes for every leader—your time may be coming. And we as the church must find ways to step in when it occurs and cry, 'Mercy!'” (5).
May we be the ones who refuse to add to shaming and cry out, Mercy! May we also choose to embrace empathy and think deeper about people, as President Obama encouraged those at the 2019 youth conference to do:
The world is messy; there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and share certain things with you. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do (6).
Amen. Let's drop the weapons and instead learn to listen and love.
Brene Brown, "Shame v Guilt," Brene Brown's Blog (January 14, 2013). Accessed June 30, 2020. https://brenebrown.com/blog/2013/01/14/shame-v-guilt/.
Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan & Al Switzer, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (New York: McGraw Hill, 2002), 3.
Emily S. Rueb & Derrick Bryson Taylor, "Obama on Call-Out Culture: ‘That’s Not Activism,’" The New York Times (October 31, 2019). Accessed June 21, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/us/politics/obama-woke-cancel-culture.html.
Greg Garrison & Anna Beahm, "Birmingham Schools, Housing Authority Cut Ties With Church of the Highlands," Alabama (June 9, 2020). Accessed June 15, 2020. https://www.al.com/news/2020/06/birmingham-schools-may-ban-church-of-the-highlands-pastor-clinic-respond-as-housing-authority-turns-away-free-covid-testing.html.
Ed Stetzer, "Unliked Likes: Cancelling Pastor Chris Hodges and Church of the Highlands," Christianity Today (June 11, 2020). Accessed June 15, 2020. https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/june/chris-hodges-trump-kirk-cancel-culture.html.
Rueb & Taylor, "Obama on Call-Out Culture: ‘That’s Not Activism,’" The New York Times.