Shame is so pervasive in our culture. We experience it in personal and professional relationships. As coworkers and partners shaming can become a tool to get what we want. Or as parents it might help to keep our children "in line." Yet the question we need to ask is, "what does shaming create?" How do we create the results without shame?

The Good Men Project (GMP) is an online discourse and discursive space on modern masculinity tagged as "the conversations no one else is having." GMP ran a series of articles on shaming where people reflected on personal and cultural stories of shaming. As part of the GMP's effort my husband, GMP Senior Editor, Mark Greene and I made a video on the shaming culture.

The four practices I have adopted to change the culture of shame are:

  1. Say NO: I refuse to be shamed and allow shaming in my presence. With friends or family, I might say, "I am not getting on that train!" when I experience a shaming moment.
  2. Talk about shame: As suggested in the video, I believe we need to talk about and unpack not only what shaming is but also the things that provoke its presence in our lives. For example, why do we feel shame when our child has a tantrum in the candy aisle? Instead of scolding our child for making us feel embarrassed, can we ask the following question: why do I need my child to look good and for whom?
  3. Reflecting with the other: Shame is a situated, cultural and social activity which occurs between people. It is not just a behavior but an interaction within a context. By engaging in dialogue about our interactions as partners, parents,  coworkers, teachers and students, we learn with each other what interactions are shame producing and how to perform differently. Shame is not one size fits all phenomenon. Rather it is insidious and can take on a variety of forms and shapes. Accordingly, there is no simple action that will eliminate it. So an antidote to shame is to expose it in conversation. To be public. And create space for listening and differences.
  4. Dancing with Differences: Shame thrives where there is no space for differences. For example, if I didn't like the way my partner cleans the house, rather than seeing it as a difference, I might belittle my partner by saying something like "you never get it right" or "I cannot believe how you have not learned how to keep a home" or "you never get anything right!" Rather than creating connection, such statements transmit shame. So instead, how about we create a culture of gratitude. How about: "Thanks dear for straightening up the living room" or "I appreciate how much you care that I want a clean home. Thank you!" Appreciating actions that are shared chores makes each other's action visible and acknowledged. The choice to express gratitude fosters space for differences.

I call them practices, because it is an ongoing process of learning how to be intentional and purposeful with these ideas. Every situation requires a different way of engaging these practices and we get better at unpacking the culture of shame with practice. So my hope is that we also will not shame ourselves for stumbling and missing a step or two!

How do you change the culture of shaming? Please share your practices and ideas!