Friday, September 19, 2014

Shame on Us!

As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, critical thinking provides a balanced view of pride, how it can be effective as a motivator but makes no sense when applied to something you can’t control.  It’s healthy to be proud of accomplishments, but foolish and delusional to be proud of characteristics you were born with such as eye color, left-handedness, sexual orientation, height, race, or nationality.  As a left handed person, you can be proud of the accomplishments of other left handed people, but that seems like a waste of time since it has no bearing on your own accomplishments.  As we pick someone to model ourselves after, why do they have to have similar physical characteristics to us?  Wouldn’t it be wiser to model ourselves after good role models regardless of appearance?

On the other side of the coin is shame.  In today’s society, there is no place for shame, embarrassment or failure.  Kids are told they are special and unique, which is true, but they are told this to the point where it overrides the learning available from missteps and failures.  They are praised for everything they do.  They grow up to be disappointed when professors, employers and their social networks don’t pick up where their parents left off with praise and awards just for participating, regardless of results or effort.  Some parents are afraid or too involved in other activities to properly discipline their kids.  It makes a cute news story, recognized in Time magazine and other places, when a convicted drunk driver uses his creativity in a mug shot.

Here is an excerpt from Quiet:  The Power of Introverts, by Susan Cain.  “Consider the mechanism by which kids acquire their sense of right and wrong.  Many psychologists believe that children develop conscience when they do something inappropriate and are rebuked by their caregivers.  Disapproval makes them feel anxious; and since anxiety is unpleasant, they learn to steer clear of antisocial behavior.  This is known as internalizing their parents’ standards of conduct, and its core is anxiety.  But what if some kids are less prone to anxiety than others?  … Often the best way to teach these children values is to give them positive role models.”

Now look at how society functions as we are overwhelmed with messages about self-esteem, compassion, humanitarianism, respect, avoiding offending anyone and the plight of victims.  Whenever some one or some group is perceived as being disadvantaged, instead of asking what behavior led to those consequences and what lessons they need to learn to avoid them in the future, we choose to rescue them, negating the opportunity for learning and enticing others to follow the same path.

Except for smokers, who for some reason have been singled out for a kind of public shunning, we hop on board when others look for an excuse.  We try to blame our problems on the big institutions that talked us into the bad behavior instead of admitting that the final decision was ours.  We blame fast food, big banks, Wall Street, the rich one-percent, drug companies, insurance companies, religious extremists, and more – yes, even big tobacco, because the smokers shouldn’t really be blamed – just isolated.  Then we look to Congress and the President expecting that they will punish the evildoers and bail us, but in reality, the government can’t fix the problems because they can’t legislate good decision-making.  They don’t tell us it’s our fault, because first, they don’t get it, second, they get the same good feelings by playing the rescuer, and third, they fear offending the voters.

Like the drug abuse problem in America, we concentrate on the supply side, pursuing and convicting the pushers while supporting the users with free needles and police trained to treat overdoses.  American society shames the wrong behavior.  We instead shame and condemn the constructive feedback or even gentle criticism aimed at people who deserve that criticism for poor judgment and erroneous behavior.  To do so is labeled offensive, uncompassionate, mean-spirited, disrespectful, uncaring – but it is very much needed!  This censure of disapproval and “caring” support of bad behavior leads inevitably to more of the same.

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