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Shame's been in the spotlight lately with so many people talking about mom-shaming, fat-shaming, dog owner-shaming, and/or food-shaming. Of course, it's nothing new, just a few catch-phrases designed to describe an age-old problem. The use of shame to control people's behavior.
Here's an example from my past.
43 years ago I was a young teacher's assistant in a public school. I was in the teacher's lounge which at that point in history meant "smoking lounge." One of the more seasoned teachers looked at my bare legs and said, "Enjoy it while you can. When you get a real teaching job, you'll have to wear nylons all the time!" It was summer-school and I had no intention of wearing pantyhose on a 90-degree day, especially in a room with no windows filled with nasty cigarette smoke.
I never did get what she thought of as a real teaching job. Now I work for myself and it's smoking, not bare legs, that's disallowed in almost every teacher's lounge. But shame and its naughty big cousin blame, haven't gone anywhere over the years, even though we know they're not very helpful.
Why is that? I think I have a pretty good guess. Shame is often used to teach values. It's a shortcut method, though, meant for quick delivery and like so many other shortcuts, it's just not as effective as the longer version. But shame is not the best teacher as it can invoke anger instead of reflection. Besides, the intentions behind shame aren't always the best. As if the shame-thrower is thinking, "I had to do it that way and it sucked, so it's now my job to make sure you do too." So the alternative is? To lead by example and consistency. The longer we remain in someone's life the more we have a chance of passing on our values. My fairly well-intentioned teaching colleague could just as well have set a stellar example as a teacher which would have mattered more in the long run than proper teaching attire, whatever that is.
Here are 4 quick ideas for things you can say instead of shaming someone when their behavior's in question.
Did you do your best?
I noticed...........can you tell me why you did that?
I felt ..........when you ..........
note: the hard part is that this only works wells if we own feelings. You made me feel.....is not acceptable. Confused, sad or annoyed are usually better words to use than betrayed, hurt or devestated.
You want what? Maybe there's a better way to get that. And here's one more thing to think about......while we're all busy doing our best not to heap unnecessary shame on others, especially family members, let's make sure not to shame ourselves. And that's not always easy to do. So instead of resorting to using shame, we can become really good at noticing when it's happening and try another way.
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Nanci J Bradley is a child and parent educator, parent, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI