“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that shame, for lack of a better word, is good. Shame is right, shame works. Shame clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Shame, in all of its forms; shame for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And shame, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.”
Yeah that quote is from Wall Street of course… and, yes, I switched the word “greed” for shame.
Here’s the thing… I’ve always thought shame was a bad word… in some ways; I was ashamed of my shame. Recently, I’ve come to understand the power of shame. Meaning, embrace shame… understand it… try to find something positive within shame.
About two weeks ago, I was starving… it was 2(ish) in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten all day. I was grumpy and needed a fast food fix. My car was in the shop so I had to use my wife’s new Prius. Don’t ask… suffice to say… I love my Mini. I drove about 2 miles away to a new Del Taco in my neighborhood. Again, don’t ask… I thought Del Taco went out of business in the 80’s… let’s not focus on that… the point is… I needed a burrito like a stripper needs coke. Shake that reference off… fight through it… And, because I was driving my wife’s new car, I didn’t dare eat to-go Mexican food in it. I did something I never do with fast food… I went in. Quite frankly, I wasn’t really sure what to expect… inside… I mean, I can quote most fast food menus from memory… which I’m not proud of, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I actually visited the interior of any fast food joint.
Holy bat s#*t.
Brand new restaurant… squeaky clean, which was both awesome and disturbing simultaneously, I walked up and ordered 4 bean and cheese burritos with no lettuce… and yes, the irony of “no lettuce” is NOT lost on me. Anyhoo, the person taking my order suggested that I only needed 2 burritos… I looked at her and said… no, I’m a big boy and I can easily handle 4 if not more. Of course, this dumbs#*t mentality is why I’m 40 pounds overweight. But I digress. I caved. I went with her suggestion that I NOT eat myself to death in her new, fancy restaurant.
I sat down and faced the other customers and realized something. Had I driven through the drive thru, I would have ordered 8 burritos. Prolly would have eaten them all, or worse… I would have pushed myself to finish them all. But because I was “in front” of people and/or eating publicly rather than eating in my car and getting dumber by listening to sports talk. I was shamed in to eating rationally. Yuup, shame, in this instance, was an instrument of good. Like f’ing duh, two burritos was plenty. I didn’t need more than that. The cashier was right to correct my order AND “shame” me in to eating correctly. See, in the car… I was accountable to no one but myself. But, “in front” of others, I didn’t want to be perceived as a typical fat @$$. Technically, I’m pear shaped but you get the gist. I had to reconcile these two worlds…
At 44, you’d think I would have learned this lesson a decade or so ago. Nope, just dawned on me.
In sum, I think we need the occasional shame… the positive side of shame not the spiraling in to the guilt abyss shame. And, for those that are still reading this article and my poor eating habits aside… how can we use shame professionally?
I’ll say it again. How can we use the positive side of shame professionally? With ourselves, with each other, with folks we like at work and those we don’t? As an instrument of good… as a mechanism to make us more aware or enlightened or just better…
I danced with my demons at Del Taco and I embrace my shame.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He’s been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.