To Shame Or Not To Shame

“Oh, humiliation is poisonous. It’s one of the deepest pains of being human.” — Pierce Brosnan

We all need a kick in the ass once in a while. But some of us are more equipped to handle it than others. And by “equipped” I mean those who are emotionally mature vs. people who take any feedback as a personal attack. The latter group gets defensive when you hold a mirror in front of their face. Their ego’s defense line comes out, guns blazing, ready to hurl any slew of vile responses they have cooked up and ready to go.

The ability to handle constructive criticism is an attribute needed in every aspect of life. It’s truly an underdeveloped and underappreciated skill. Not only is it necessary in the workplace, but it also has a powerful impact on an individual’s personal growth.

But what happens if criticism is lacking the constructive part? Well, it takes two to tango.

Little fun fact for your hat: The phrase it “takes two to tango” originally came from a lyric in a 1950s song. But much more interesting than that (especially in today’s world) is President Reagan used “it takes two to tango” in a press conference as a metaphor for the relationship between the U.S. and Russia in the ’80s. It’s been widely used in everyday conversation ever since.

Arguments or fights are rarely the fault of one person. It’s an emotional release, hoping to win the war of words. But are we able to change the way we interact with one another, even during those times when someone is being disrespectful? Do we have to resort to mud-slinging? Is there another way, a more constructive approach perhaps?

As we know, the only thing we have control over in this world is our own thoughts and actions. That’s it. Everything else is completely out of our control. People will do and say all kinds of things we may disagree with. But again, we have zero control over it. And to be honest, trying to control ourselves is plenty of responsibility as it is, let alone anyone else!

When we decide to react negatively to a situation, thinking perhaps that it’ll make us feel better or we’ll gain some sort of respect from it, it becomes a domino effect. For example, if a person is shitty to you and you throw it right back at them, you both end up feeling worse than you did. Then, you and that person continue your day spreading more negative energy, knowingly or unknowingly, to everyone you encounter. And the dominos fall one by one.

We’re interacting with more people today than at any other time in history. We can talk (or fight) with people across the globe in a matter of seconds on any platform of our choosing. The outcome of those interactions dictates the energy that’s spread to others.

We’ve all heard people say how humanity is lost these days. This sentiment comes from the constant cycle of snarky responses thrown back and forth, like an endless tennis match. It feels like a negative society because we’ve lost our constructive and respectful communication skills as human beings. We’ve resorted to name-calling, bullying, “cancelling,” and so on. What it boils down to is a very lazy human population who’d rather get a quick superiority fix than to use their brains in positive, constructive ways, which would actually IMPROVE society. They’re more concerned about winning some petty argument with a random stranger online. The irony is it’s these very same people, who refuse to control their emotions, that say “humanity is going down the toilet”. Someone get them a mirror, please, and fast!

Perhaps you’re one of them.

We must hold ourselves accountable for how we respond to negative situations. We have the power to make positive changes or destroy the very fabric of society based on our choice of words. That’s a tremendous amount of power when you stop and really think about it. All of us, individually, affect a whole domino set of people, spanning the entire world.

So how do we relearn respectful communication skills during unpleasant situations? Because let’s be honest, it’s easy to be nice to those who are pleasant and courteous to us. It’s when people are spewing disrespectful and downright awful things that challenge our controlled reactions the most.

We love to call people out because it’s easy. But what if we called people forth instead?

I always thought of insults to be low-class, pointless drivel. So I found no use for them, mainly because I know how hurtful words can be and the impact they have on the brain. Plus, who wants to be responsible for inflicting pain on someone? No matter what anyone has said or done, the instant gratification of verbally hurting someone has never appealed to me.

But on the other hand, I never knew how to hold people accountable for their actions. To be honest, I avoided conflict and confrontation in the past. It made me very uncomfortable and sick to my stomach. I’m a peacemaker and can’t stand when there’s some sort of riff going on.

But there needs to be a way to bring about positive changes in people vs. vilifying them or ignoring their inappropriate behavior.

This is where the tactic of calling people forth comes into play.

Here’s a real world example:

After living in Los Angeles for 15 years, I decided during the pandemic in 2020 that it was time to go. Living in Los Angeles, day in and day out, had turned into an exhausting battle. I needed trees, birds, grass, and an overall sense of peace for my mental and emotional well-being.

An opportunity arose for me to rent a house in the Atlanta suburbs, and I didn’t hesitate to snatch it up. I packed my zoo of 2 dogs and 2 cats and off we went to the “city in a forest”.

Fitness has always been a top priority in my life. In Los Angeles, I was a Pilates Instructor for the last few years, which I very much enjoyed as I love pushing the body past its limits. So as soon as I arrived in town, I was on the hunt for a challenging studio where I could continue working my body to the max.

Club Pilates was close to my new home in Atlanta, so I decided to give it a try. In booking my first class, the receptionist asked if I had ever taken Pilates before. I told her I had been an instructor for several years and was really looking forward to finding my new workout studio.

When I showed up for my first class, the franchise owner, Nicole, warmly greeted me and asked how I came to learn about Club Pilates. I told her I had just moved into town from Los Angeles and was interested in trying out their Pilates method. It’s what she said next that gave me great pause and sparked an interesting opportunity to call forth.

“Well, welcome to Georgia, but just don’t vote.”

I was a bit startled by this, especially since there was no hint of sarcasm or good-natured smile along with the comment.

“Oh, okay,” I responded. And again she told me, “We like new people, but just don’t vote. We like the way things are here.”

“What an interesting way to greet a new client,” I thought to myself.

But unfortunately, it wasn’t surprising. My sister-in-law, a native Georgian, also told me something similar about a month after I had moved to the state.

It takes some seriously large gonads to instruct someone not to vote. It’s one thing when a family member, who’s a bit on the ignorant side, says an off-the-cuff remark like this. But it’s quite another when it comes from a franchise owner of a very large national Pilates studio.

I smiled grimly in response and walked into class, realizing this was the part of the south the rest of the country couldn’t stand.

Days later and the comment stayed with me, like a bad taste in my mouth. Then, out of blue, I received an email from the franchise owner:

I knew that I definitely didn’t want to teach at her studio. But the class was decent enough, so I could see myself continuing to go there. But the question was how to handle her “Welcome to Georgia, but don’t vote” comment?

We’ve all faced uncomfortable situations where we’ve had to decide whether to call someone out or ignore something they said. In fact, technology has made it too easy for us to hide behind our keyboards and really let someone have it. If I wanted to and was that kind of person, I could’ve followed the current trends by putting this woman and Club Pilates on full blast via every social media platform. We see this happen almost daily, right? It’s the very backbone of “cancel culture”, publicly humiliating a person/business because we deem their actions unacceptable.

But let’s be honest, this is nothing new. Humans have used public shaming since the Middle Ages! Stockades are a classic example, where people threw rotten food and jeered at misfits.

Ever wonder where the phrase “laughing-stock” comes from?

The goal of public shaming is to humiliate and strip every last bit of self-worth from a person so they feel so remorseful and ashamed that they’ll never commit the offending behavior ever again. We may have done away with stockades and throwing rotten tomatoes, but verbal assaults of the most obscene and damaging kind have taken its place instead. Today’s version of the stockades amasses entire populations to reject and, many times, ruin a person’s life.

Unfortunately, the little voice inside our heads that used to say, “Alright, that’s plenty” disappeared when we started to hide behind our keyboards. So we have no real gauge as to how much is too much public humiliation. In turn, invisible significant damage is being inflicted than what’s necessary. Every day people enter verbal UFC fights with no referee to call it when the opponent has been knocked out. We have yet to realize that we must become our own referee.

So in my situation, I had a few options to choose from:

  1. Let it go and move on.
  2. Respond to Nicole’s email with an emotionally charged rant, likely ruining her day and probably her week.
  3. Blow up the situation on all social platforms, publicly shaming her and Club Pilates.
  4. Call forth: Provide constructive feedback to help her grow as a fellow human being, which ultimately fosters a positive environment for all of us to thrive in.

Simply letting it go was not an option. The comment wasn’t so much offensive as it was irksome, like a stone in a shoe. #2 and #3 are out-of-control reactions, and I like to think better of myself than that. So I chose #4 and responded with:

Before this situation, I hadn’t read the Harvard Business Review article. I didn’t know this was a defined tactic. But even then, the article outlines calling forth as a tactic in a professional setting.

Why not use it in everyday life?

When I formulated my response to Nicole, in no way did I want to come across as arrogant or condescending. My intention was to provide honest, measured, and respectful feedback, hoping to help her become a better person. How else do we learn if we don’t help each other grow as individuals?

Shaming her would activate the fight-or-flight response as she’d retreat into her hole, feeling rejected. That doesn’t bring about a positive change in someone or in society. And ignoring her rather disrespectful comment would only reinforce her belief that it was appropriate, and she’d probably continue saying it to other people.

I wasn’t expecting a response from her. I went into this with zero expectations other than to provide her with a different perspective.

But she responded:

Mission accomplished.

My goal wasn’t to win a battle or an argument. That would be the goal of someone who is ego-driven. My mission in calling her forth was to hold her to a higher standard, reminding her that she was a better person than this.

The reason I say her response was “mission accomplished” is because of this phrase in her email, “I have given this some thought…”.

That’s it. She could’ve disagreed with me, and I wouldn’t have cared. The goal was to offer something for her to reflect on. If I had come out all guns blazing, she would’ve tuned it out. Because I chose a measured and balanced response with no real emotive language, the amygdala part of her brain didn’t sound the “danger/threat” alarm. And because she thought about my email over the course of a few days, it allowed her critical thinking part of the brain the necessary time to kick in.

I went to pilates class a few days later, and she was at the front desk. She waved to follow her outside to talk privately. It was a very calm and pleasant conversation. She came to me, hat in hand, apologizing for her comment. I told her I didn’t need an apology but that I simply hoped to raise her awareness to be better and do better as we all should strive for daily.

To ease any shame or guilt she might have felt talking to me, I came down to her level by saying,

“In the past, I’ve been humbled by people who made me aware of things I said or did that unknowingly had a negative impact. And I appreciated when they came forward and told me about it, so that I too could work on myself to be a better person.”

This part is really important, as you never want someone to feel as though you’re standing on a pedestal, pointing a finger down at them. We’re all imperfect. It’s part of being a human. No one is better than another. We should allow others to hold us accountable so that we don’t lose our humility! But, public shaming someone does more damage than good. Calling someone forth, however, provides a safe space for everyone to learn and grow.

Now, she might’ve been just saying this to keep me as a client and to calm any waters. But when we talked for those few minutes, she was genuine in telling me how she hadn’t thought about her comment in that way before. And then she did something quite remarkable.

She thanked me.

We all live in the same society. She knows I could’ve chosen a very different way to handle the situation. It’s a reflection of who I am in how I respond. And by calling her forth instead of calling her out, not only do I gain her respect as a mature individual, but she also learned a new tool for her own life. It gives her hope that not everyone is out to “cancel” one another in some out of control emotional way. There are, in fact, people who use their words to express their point of view vs. belittling or destroying someone.

Here’s the other really valuable piece in all of this: I guarantee you, she’ll never say “don’t vote” to anyone ever again.

No one shamed nor “canceled” her. She was simply reminded that words matter and to choose them a bit more carefully in the future. That’s it. No need to cause a shit show with torches and pitchforks.

I’ve used the calling forth tactic many times since and, without a doubt, it’s been overwhelmingly positive for me and the receiver. Not only do I feel good about not stooping down into some mud-slinging contest, but I also know I’m making a positive impact on people.

We all contribute to our society. Wouldn’t we want to change it for the better? As much as we love to point the finger and say, “It’s those people who are causing the destruction of humanity,” we really need to take a good hard look in the mirror and decide how we show up in this world.

To activate calling someone forth:

  1. Ask yourself what your ultimate goal is. Do you truly wish the “offender” no harm and only want to provide respectful feedback to help them change for the better? Or do you want to light the person on fire and walk away? (If you’re the latter, look in the mirror. You ARE the problem.)
  2. Take your time to devise the response. Allow your very slow critical thinking part of the brain time to kick in vs. the highly irrational amygdala, who will only get you in trouble.
  3. You may not get the response you’re hoping for. Be okay with that. Everything we do and say impacts the brain in some capacity, regardless of whether we’re aware of it.
  4. Building people up fuels positive change. Tearing them down does the exact opposite. Carefully choose your words based on your intention to effectively bring about positive influence and growth.

You’re part of the human species and the society in which we all live in. You’re as responsible for it as I am. If you don’t want to take accountability for your actions/reactions, go join a different species. I hear the mollusks have a few openings. I’ll put in a good word for you.

Did You Know?

… ostracism can cause pain that often is deeper and lasts longer than a physical injury?

Ostracism is torture for the mind, much like physical torture is for the body. Shaming, public humiliation, singling out, and “cancel culture” are all forms of ostracism, which means excluding a person from a society or group. And the damage caused by it is more than what anyone probably intends or even really understands.

There’s been many scientific studies conducted on the effects of ostracism on the brain. Findings have concluded ostracism triggers the same area of the brain that’s active when we feel physical pain. Which, from an evolutionary perspective, makes sense since our survival depends on our acceptance into social groups. We have not evolved out of this need as human beings. Socially rejected individuals experience significant depression, anxiety, and anger, which linger longer than physical pain. Long-term rejection has disastrous effects, leading to anti-social and aggressive behavior.

“While the evidence that ostracism has negative real-life consequences is strong, it’s still an accepted form of punishment in human society,” says Kip Williams, PhD.

The problem is once it begins, ostracism can be difficult to stop. In her interviews, Zadro heard many ostracizers say that once they started ignoring someone, they had trouble re-engaging with them.

Coping with being ostracized, given the silent treatment, or rejected from a social group takes an enormous amount of psychological resources. It saps a ton of neural energy to the point of depletion, resulting in the person giving up. This resignation results in significant negative impact on brain patterns as depression, anxiety, loneliness, helpless all set in.

And yet, knowing all of this, humans still use this very ancient and powerful tool to condemn behavior we find unacceptable. I think this is where I say we truly are our own worst enemy.

Think about ways you can do better for the sake of humanity.

Would You Rather?

… never be able to say thanks again

or

never be able to ask for help again?

I honestly can’t remember the last time I asked someone for help, which isn’t a good thing. I’m notoriously strong and independent and rather enjoy working through life challenges in my own way. Many people can relate to this, as they don’t want to burden anyone with their problems.

Saying “thank you” is the single most powerful phrase one can use daily. I can not stress enough the profound effects gratitude has on the brain. It’s life-changing. So there’s no way in hell I would give that up.

Which one would you choose and why?

Make Humor Great Again

Never tell a pun to a kleptomaniac. They’re always taking things literally.

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Kira Mamula

Kira Mamula

31 Followers

I’m a writer and life guru with a head full of wisdom, knowledge, and experience on how to thrive in this thing called life. I believe in humanity.