Monday, November 21, 2011

The Power of Shame

I keep thinking of that interview with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee, heard on the BBC. She drew Christian and Muslim women of Lyberia together to stop the civil war tearing their lives, the lives of their children, and their country to pieces. They used many nonviolent actions, sit-ins, speaking out, public prayer, a sex strike, and something I had never considered, the power of shame. The way in which this was used was for women of all ages to threaten to strip naked in front of government officials. In this country that sounds like an invitation, doesn't it? Annvitation to have sex or sexually abuse women. But in Lyberia it was understood to be what it was, ant of compete desperation! When the BBC. interviewer asked Why the women chose to do This, the answer was clear. Ms. Gbowee said it made the men stop in shock to think, "What have we brought our mothers and grandmothers to that they would do This?"

To have the courage, after a history, during the civil war, of rape and mutilation, to become SO Vulnerable, to discard one's own shame as an abused woman and shame those carrying on the war which caused the abuse, I can't Imagine!

And it worked! The men in the room Had to know that some of these Very women had been raped by forces under Their command. Yet until now they had taken their asaults quietly, not discussing them when it could be avoided. Some of these women had to have been those who survived mutilation committed by the forces commanded by the Very men who were forced to see them.

I have always thought of the power of shame as a negative, something abused children of both sexes and abused women and some men kept silently buried deep inside themselves. In order for there to be shame on the part of perpetrators of violence, there must once have been a culture of Respect. I wonder how long it has been since our society has, as a whole, had a culture of Respect for mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers. Some people, as individuals and as groups mostly always have.

But I wonder if the power of shame is Really used, or is Capable of being used to change behavior here. Oh some of us make moral judgments about public figures who are caught being human in their private lives, but that's Not the same as forcing those who have done great harm to face it. Do I think I have the answers? No. I only wish we still had enough Respect for one another that shame Could be used as a power for Healing.

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