I read this morning about yet another human being, a pastor who committed suicide because he was publicly revealed to be a philanderer and shamed repeatedly on the Internet. It reminded me of the young man who took his life when he was outed by a college roommate as being gay through release of a sexual video. It reminded me of Jessica Logan, a teenager who was repeatedly devastated in social media by peers for sending nude photos of herself to a boyfriend. She killed herself, too.
Many people would not see the parallels here. How is a cheat like a gay man? How is a liar like a newly minted, experimenting teen?
It’s not the victims who are similar. It is the current digital mob mentality of the public, who seem to have forgotten that we have an obligation to look at ourselves first before we throw stones and wave pitchforks, and when failing to find a comparison or a similarity, to exert compassion or even forgiveness when it’s appropriate.
We have laws against harassment for a reason. Harassment is violent in its essence. The original meaning of the word meant to lay waste, or devastate. And how devastating it is.
But we have no laws against public shaming, or public censure, even though personal isolation through public humiliation is clearly one of the most destructive forces on a human being. Isolation is so torturous that we are not even legally allowed to impose it on prisoners. We’ve moved past that in theory if not in actual practice, yet the terrible isolation that happens when we humiliate someone so thoroughly and so openly is second to none.
So why is it that we find it acceptable in this day and age to publicly humiliate and shame people for their private behavior? And why do we always seem to save our greatest shaming behavior for what we deem to be sexual offenses?
The answer is simple and sobering. We like it. We love the feeling of self-righteousness. It’s a combination of anger and freedom. We finally have a feasible outlet for the unacceptable emotion of anger and we are going to use it.
It’s understandable, really. We’ve all been shamed into boxes, our sexuality squeezed into tiny spaces that meet acceptable public mores. Whether we realize it or not, we’re angry about that. But we see no out–no easy way to break free from these spaces, few public role models to empower us. And we fear censure ourselves. So we shame. We harass. We “share” and “like” and “send” our anger, our disappointment with ourselves, our frustration with our lives.
The fact that most people are asleep to why they do it is not an excuse. We have a moral obligation to develop character. The remedy is not more shame on shame. The remedy is a good, hard look at what we want in our lives, and a genuine search for resources and community to help us achieve it.
What do you want–really? What is your heart’s deepest need for your body and its desires? If there were no one to judge, what would you do?
If we can be happy, we won’t mind so much what others do, and even if we see some hurt that has been caused, we will find a way to be a balm to the situation rather than becoming another screaming peasant vying for a place near the noose.
Dr. Rosalyn Dischiavo, Director, Institute for Sexuality Education & Enlightenment
September 11, 2015