Why Do People Do This?

This (feels?) like a theme/meme I’ve run into many times. Quoting from here:

There is much to be said about shame, but I struggle with the search for antidotes.  Those who make us feel shame are also most likely to chide us for suffering from it.  Part of Shelley’s point is that at the least, misrecognition of shame is to be avoided.  And some of the sources she identifies in her comment are the product of the wrong ideals; for example, receiving government assistance is a source of shame in a culture in which people with lucky and uneventful lives hold up extreme individualism and self-sufficiency as an ideal for everyone, while fancying they live up to this ideal.

Focus on the italicized (italics mine) sentence. Surely those who feel themselves not in the group of those “making us feel shame” are the ones who will be empathetically trying to assist those feeling said shame to get past, get over, and not feel that shame. Which in turn concentrates attention on that shame … making it felt. It might be just as likely that those who notice, empathise and try to rid us of our shame just plain make it worse … and possibly are even more prevalent than those who would “chide us” for it.

And who “makes anyone” feel shame? Shame, it seems to me, comes from a shared recognition of a failure to hold to a communal standard? No individual can make a shared understanding occur or create a communal standard. Only an extreme individualist might hold this as the fault of an individual. Right?

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2 comments

  1. Boonton says:

    And who “makes anyone” feel shame? Shame, it seems to me, comes from a shared recognition of a failure to hold to a communal standard? No individual can make a shared understanding occur or create a communal standard. Only an extreme individualist might hold this as the fault of an individual. Right?

    Not quite. For one thing note that traditionally ‘shame’ is a verb as in something you do to other people….i.e. “the woman caught in adultry was shamed before the townsfolk!”. In the blog you linked to, note what was causing people to feel shame….the sense of not being like others.

    At least in this case shame plays upon the fact that we are social animals. In that we feel we are not ‘like’ our social group, we feel discomfort and a desire to at least appear we are like them. Hence the ancedote about the mother who stopped her shoulders after losing a breast to make it appear like her breasts were ‘still normal’.

    So yes you can make someone feel shame by making them feel they are unlike the group. This power is hardly infinite. The individual may not care about the group you represent, the individual may try to respond by changing the group rather than changing himself to fit into it, the individual may find another competiting group etc. But a limited power is still a power, while your ability to make others feel shame is not without limits it doens’t mean it isn’t real.

  2. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    Not in the modern era, the writer as you note talks about breast cancer and mastectomy. Nobody (or a precious few) are going to “shame” a woman for having cancer. She is stooping her shoulders because of her failing to hold to a communal standard (of appearance and the putative value placed on the same). The example in this case makes a strong plea for what I’m objecting to, that the shame is primarily internally inflicted.

    And take your objection, yes, perhaps a person can “make a person feel shame” but that’s both rare these days and more importantly the person who might do that … on what basis do you think that is also the person “chiding” him/her for feeling shame. In what context do you imagine that the woman caught in adultry was shamed before the townsfolk! was chided by same said townsfolk for feeling shame? Never happens. So why does the person make that claim? It’s nonsense? But I think the perception/claim she makes is not uncommon. So why make such an obviously wrong claim? What is the logic/basis for that error?