On Shame and Guilt

September 16, 2008

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.

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