Public shaming is a punishment that has been around for a very long time. This form of punishment has been around since the beginning of human civilization, especially in the colonial times of America. It is considered one of the most impactful, yet controversial, forms of punishment for many good reasons. But public shaming is a good way to get people to realize that their actions have consequences. Sadly it only works for people that can comprehend that.
There are many great examples in history about public shaming. They can be seen in literature, movies, ancient history books, and modern day punishment. One of the greatest examples is portrayed in the book The Scarlet Letter. In this book an adultress named Hester Prynne is forced to wear a scarlet “A” as a symbol of sin. This is a burden for her to carry because she has to deal with public shame on the scaffolds. But one main theme in this story is guilt. The person whom Hester cheated with was Arthur Dimmesdale. Fortunately, he didn’t carry the public shame but had to deal with the personal guilt from his actions.
Guilt, according to Dictionary.com, is “the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime”. This is the character that can either make you or break you as depicted by Dimmesdale. Towards the end of the Scarlet letter, Dimmesdale starts to go crazy and feel the burden of hidden sin. This was his guilt. Just in this situation, guilt is a very important tool in solving a problem. When someone is publicly shamed, it causes deep thought on unto what they’ve done. “However, shame can also motivate responsibility and repair behaviors when we feel there is something we can do to change the cause of our shame”(Power of Public Shaming, for Good and for Ill). Although seeming a bit controversial on the intentions, the main goal is to spark the feeling of remorse and avoiding a future problem. Just as what happened to Dimmesdale, problems that don’t get resolved usually end up growing into bigger problems.
This effect in guilt sparks self reflection. Some punishments of public shame may seem a bit strange, such as the case of the “Utah Ponytail Cut Off. In this case The mother of a 13-year-old Utah girl chopped off her daughter’s ponytail in court in order to reduce her community service sentence.The teen had landed in court in May because she and another girl used dollar-store scissors to cut off the hair of a 3-year-old they had befriended at a McDonald’s”(Justice Served). This type of public shaming was an obvious example of instant punishment. This punishment made the girl reflect about her actions and the type of impact that they can have on other people.
Another case of an outrageous act was the ‘I stole from a 9 year old’ case. In this case, “Western Pennsylvania residents Evelyn Border and her daughter, Tina Griekspoor, 35, were caught stealing a gift card from a child inside a Wal-Mart. In November 2009, the Bedford County district attorney said he would recommend probation instead of jail time because the women stood in front of the courthouse for 4 1/2 hours holding signs reading, ‘I stole from a 9-year-old on her birthday! Don’t steal or this could happen to you!”(Justice Served). This case involves showing others the consequences of her actions and making her reflect on what she could’ve avoided in the first place. Most importantly, it is a case that took power away from the offensor to cause true reflection and remorse.
One of the most effective ways of reprobation in the public eye is community service. This is because “community service can be an effective form of punishment and a valuable lesson in humility and respect”(The Impact of Public Shaming). It allows the offender to serve their community in an effort to better themselves. This is a powerful weapon that needs to be handled carefully. But it is also a very effective deterrent. This is especially something that can also discourage someone from making the same decision that got them in trouble. This offers a truth about life in the fact that “those who fail to meet the standards of acceptable behavior, the repercussion can follow them throughout their lives”(The Impact of Public Shaming).
Although public shaming can be a very effective way of punishing the guilty, it’s not for everyone. Not all people will get embarrassed by public shaming. If anything it will make public shaming pointless in that situation. For this reason shame is expected “to be less effective than guilt in deterring future crime. That’s because a bad, defective person is much worse and harder to fix than a bad behavior”(The Two Faces of Shame). That is why the feeling of guilt would be considered to be more important than the punishment itself.
Another thing that can bring a bad wrap on public shame is the extreme actions that it brings. That is because public shame can ruin someone’s reputation forever. This can bring an undesired stigma against someone’s mistakes. “Stigmatising shaming can lead to unresolved feelings of shame and may effectively disconnect an individual from the moral community. A bully stigmatised for bullying, or an alcoholic stigmatised for drinking, is counterintuitively more likely to continue the problematic behaviour”(The Power of Public Shaming, for Good and for Ill). This shaming may even make the problem worse instead of solving it. This situation is especially bad if it is in a small community or on the internet because information can spread quickly. Such as the townspeople never forgetting what Hester Prynne did in The Scarlet Letter. The same thing can happen in our modern world. Unfortunately once something is on the internet, it is on there forever. This is risky because consequence would’ve come from temporary behavior that could have been fixed.
Even though there are few but scarring side effects of public shaming, it is still a very effective way of discipline. It teaches people that there are always consequences to every bad choice. It gives people a reason to be careful and think before their actions. Even if some of the punishments depicted seem a bit too harsh, things could always be worse. What if someone’s reckless driving caused a fatal injury or death of someone? Or what if the robbing of a bank caused a whole city to shut down? In life, there are many decisions made everyday, but it is truly up to us to make the ones that will benefit the world and not destroy it. So in the grand perspective, public shaming is very good for those who need to learn to take initiative in their life and change their behavior for the good.
- Associated Press, Justice Served: Examples of Court Ordered Shaming. Police One: November 13, 2012. https://www.policeone.com/bizarre/articles/6035224-Justice-served-examples-of-court-ordered-shaming/
- Herbert Wray, The Two Faces of Shame. Association for Psychological Science: October 1, 2013. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/were-only-human/the-two-faces-of-shame.html
- National Editorial, The Impact of Public Shaming. The National: March 28, 2017. https://www.thenational.ae/opinion/the-impact-of-public-shaming-1.72563
- Woodyatt Lydia, The Power of Public Shaming, for Good and for Ill. The Conversation: April 8, 2015. https://theconversation.com/the-power-of-public-shaming-for-good-and-for-ill-38920