On Shame and Guilt

In Margaret Visser‘s terrific little book called Beyond Fate, she presents many good ideas.

One of the central ones is that we are falling backwards into the Greek concept that Christianity had freed us from. As this 2002 CBC Massey Series Lecture presents:

People today are often afflicted with a sense that they cannot change things for the better. They feel helpless, constrained, caught — in a word, fatalistic.

Feeling your life was pre-ordained or that you have lost control, lives very little room for free will and forgiveness. While living in Barcelona, Spain Visser came to understand debt collection.

Honour and shame are always waiting in the wings; they can erupt anywhere, at any time. There need not be anything obviously reprehensible about such an eruption; it might even seem vivid and amusing – although not to the person reduced or shamed.

So maybe there is justified or positive shame and unjustified, unhealthy shaming?

For example, in Barcelona today a creditor can engage a collection agency [see Think a Franchisor took your money improperly? posting] that specializes in the haunting, in public, of a debtor: the one owing money is followed about everywhere he goes by a man in a top hat and tails. The tall, powerful stranger (he has to be prepared to defend himself if his quarry loses his temper) never needs to say a word. This picturesque ploy depends entirely on shame, on the fact that every Barcelonan looking on understands that the man in the frock coat is a walking embodiment of a sum of money owed and the fury of the person waiting to be paid.

Let’s repeat that: understand that the man represents a debt and anger at being denied its payment. Lots of that around in franchising these days.

Guilt v. Shame

Visser defines guilt as attaching to an action and can be forgiven or confessed. This is the unique technology that Christianity brought to western civilization. God alone provides absolution.

Shame on the other hand, is a much more ancient idea: It’s about losing face, losing social standing, losing identity, losing honour. No one can absolve you of a shame: you have to revenge to get your face back. Honour is given by others as much as shame requires the other (an audience). The Mafia is a shame-based system.

  • I believe it is a legitimate advocacy means to communicate to the franchise elite in a language that they project outward: In short, it is justified to ridicule, embarrass, shame and dishonour Big Franchising.

In this way, their cowardice and weakness is demonstrated.

PS: Margaret has a new book called The Gift of Thanks that I am looking forward to reading very much.

One Response to On Shame and Guilt

  1. Carol Cross says:

    Guilt and Shame and Anger —–not to be escaped if we are human. Guilt and Shame for failing and Anger when we understand that we were just part of the random violence of systemic and immoral practices that are defined as public policy for the “greater good” under federal regulatory policy of the FTC of the United States.

    Every month when I write the check to pay on some of the startup debt for the franchise that failed, I think that I will telephone the new owner and ask him how he is doing. I don’t really wish him and his wife any bad outcome because I understand that there is never an ill wind that blows that doesn’t blow someone, somewhere, some good —and that this is an essential element of franchising that makes it so durable. Maybe they can make it since they got the store for a fraction of what it cost us in the startup and the three years we tried to get to breakeven status.

    But! I remain angry at BIG Franchising and the fact that our money every month is holding up the Franchisor and the multi-billion dollar organization that used us to maximize their profits. Our house was paid for before we bought into the unprecedented opportunity of a UPS Store, and in my old age I have to write that check every month and fight the anger that still remains when I think of how we are supporting this giant enterprise every month for the rest of our natural lives.

    I wonder how many Americans are writing checks on startup debt every month that holds up the franchisors and contributes to their durability in our economy. Obviously, government regulation supports the franchisors because they can beat the odds of startup failure of small businesses and when they grow big enough, they can even survive in Recessions because they don’t share in the failure of the franchise units that wear their names. Just a shame they have to eat their franchisees to survive. Will there be any Economists in Heaven?

    Do you think they feel any shame at all?

    But, I think I understand The Gift of Thanks and I’m doing better. I write to WARN and to SHAME BIG FRANCHISING, and its enabler, my government, to at least mandate that franchisors disclose the risk and the rewards of their franchises, as known to them, when they sell the franchise to the public.


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