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Public Ridicule Going Viral, It's Shameful

by on April 20, 2015 6:15 AM

All it takes is a camera, someone doing something stupid and the internet. It's called shaming.

When my daughter's mini-dachshund puppy spent the weekend with us last year, her comical personality (and looks) as well as the fact that she was not potty-trained gave me the perfect opportunity for a little "dog shaming."

I made the sign, took the picture and instantly posted it on Facebook. The number of likes that I received on the picture indicated that other's thought it was funny too.

Shaming. The act of bringing shame to another. The intentional infliction of hurt or embarrassment on another – sometimes publicly and often anonymously – because you believe their decisions or behaviors do not meet your standards.

A little funny when it's a dog. Not so funny when it's a person.

Last week's release of the video of ESPN reporter Britt McHenry in an interaction caught on camera is a case study on shaming. In her frustration and anger at having her car towed, Miss McHenry verbally attacked or "shamed" the woman behind the counter at the towing agency.

In what appears to be a relatively short but horrific interaction, McHenry lashes out at the woman and includes derogatory statements about the woman's supposed education, work setting (a trailer) and her teeth. It appears that she knew the camera was rolling and didn't care. Her parting comment to the woman at the towing agency is to "lose some weight Baby Girl."

In their release of the video which immediately went viral, the towing company got in a little shaming too. McHenry has been suspended from her duties at ESPN for a whole week.

One week for off for bringing bad publicity to one's employer. Consider this article a little ESPN shaming of my own.

What made McHenry's reaction so shocking to the millions who have seen it was the ease at which she seemed to disrespect another human being. Miss McHenry looks pretty comfortable in the video demonstrating not only disrespect and shaming but with incredibly bad manners. My guess is that she has done it before.

Shame. A painful, hurtful emotion that we inflict upon ourselves when we make a decision or do something that doesn't meet our expectations or standards. Shaming is when we attempt to do it to others.

Researcher and author Dr. Brene Brown has done groundbreaking work in the area of shame. In interviewing tens of thousands of individuals, Brown has found that shame is a common human experience. Her definition of shame is our belief that our decisions and our actions make us unworthy of love or belonging.

Shame can destroy relationships, interfere with our potential for success and damage our feelings of self-worth. According to Brown, the secrecy and the silence with which most of us respond to feelings of shame is made worse by the judgment of others.

How many of us have looked at the People of Walmart pictures? Those unusual photos often show obese people who are dressed in outrageous (and perhaps staged) outfits with ridiculous hair styles or other peculiar characteristics. Maybe because we believe on some level they aren't real or because we don't know the people in the pictures, the shaming becomes entertainment.

The advent of the internet has made it easier to engage in shaming. Not only can we judge and criticize others, technology has given us the ability to add to their shame by posting a picture or a video on the internet. I can't imagine what it's like to go through the awkwardness of adolescence in today's culture of the internet, anonymity and shaming. But, as we saw with the recent pictures posted on Facebook by a local fraternity and with one ESPN reporter, shaming apparently has no age limitations.

I'm ashamed to say I've done it myself. Driving downtown on a Saturday or Sunday morning. The young woman walking alone in her bare feet at 9 a.m., carrying party shoes, with hair and make-up smeared. The oversized sweatshirt over her dress. The walk of shame. On more than one occasion I have said to the other person in the car "Her mother would be so proud of her right now."

Shaming. Judging others by our standards and using their decisions to make them feel bad.

If you google the word "shaming" you see the gamut of pictures and videos, sometimes with people holding up signs. Drunk shaming. There is even "formula shaming" by the proponents of breastfeeding with pictures snapped of parents bottle feeding. Kids holding signs that say "I don't do my homework" or "I skipped school today" posted on a parent's Facebook page. There are internet sites for the shaming of passengers on airplanes. A mother of three recently took heat because she posted a picture of herself and her incredibly fit body in a bathing suit with her three small children and entitled it "What's your excuse?" The ensuing uproar about her alleged fat shaming made national news.

According to Dr. Brown and her research on shame, the level of hurt and self-denigration that comes with shame can be lethal to our personal growth and development. According to Brown, the antidote to shame is empathy.

I can empathize with Britt McHenry's frustration at the towing company. A few years ago, my car was towed from a space in downtown State College that I paid for every month. When we got to the towing office, they wouldn't let us access the purse or wallet in our car , behind the fence on their lot despite the fact that the driver just didn't see our parking sticker. When we finally returned with the $85, it would have been very easy to lash out at the woman behind the counter. Instead, when the transaction was over, I said "You had the opportunity to be kind tonight and you didn't take it."

Shame on you Britt McHenry.


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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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