BBC Radio 4:Rev Dr Rob Marshall - 12/05/2018


Good Morning

The word shame if often used as an expression of sympathy: “what a shame,” we say when we hear of another person’s predicament. But a website aimed at naming and shaming bad drivers by publishing pictures of their cars with registration plates clearly visible, is all about a very different type of shame:

“oh dear”, we say, “that couldn’t possibly have been me, could it?” How humiliating!

The website in question has caused quite a debate this week. Motoring organisations have been warning against vigilante behaviour, urging people who have information about bad driving to contact the police, rather than merely adding them to a digital, rogues' gallery.

But with more than 7000 incidents already logged, and a named and shamed “top 10” changing on a monthly basis – it seems the age of dashboard cameras just makes it all so much easier.

Anti-social behaviour is rarely challenged in person these days for fear of reprisal. I get most annoyed when, on a train, I see feet on seats. I can feel than anger rising.

In fact, feet on seats and throwing litter in the street are up there with poor driving, in my book. But I rarely feel I can or should challenge another person’s behaviour directly because of what might result. Is there really, honestly any chance of repentance through a one to one confrontation.

The fear of shame amongst a wider group is a different matter altogether . And it’s certainly a theme which pops up time and time again in literature. Shakespeare suggest the fear of shame is a constant threat in Henry V so [and I quote] “let life be short else shame will be too long”. Yes, it really can be that bad.

In many biblical texts the fear of shame is a constant refrain, particularly in the Old Testament Psalms. And there are three reasons for this. First, God isn’t happy. Second, our enemies rejoice at our downfall. And third, it can affect whole families and in cultures where an individual’s shame is inevitably shared by the wider family clan – the results are far more damaging and devastating.

There is absolutely no doubt that social media makes naming and shaming much easier. But anonymous reporting, whilst satisfying our curiosity and providing for some a bit of light hearted amusement has the potential to create a deeper hurt instead of dealing with the root causes of repetitive, bad behaviour. Shame can be a powerful tool to bring about behavioural change. But its final goal surely has to be repentance [a complete turning around] , rather than revenge.

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