Inside-Out Morality: The Art of Public Shaming

Inside-Out Morality: The Art of Public Shaming May 1, 2014


There I was, waiting for my order at Starbucks, minding my very own business when a fellow walked in with a girl. I smelled him before I saw him. Not that he smelled bad. He didn’t at all. It’s just that he must’ve used half-a-bottle of after-shave. He was tall and had a receding hairline common to men in their late 30s. He had on stonewashed jeans. Are those making a comeback, or did he just think they were still in style? He had that fresh, well-scrubbed look of a Texas Baptist.

The lady with him was a foot shorter. Her hair was bleached yellow, like Sally Struthers, Archie Bunker’s baby girl. She was wearing a long summer dress, blue-and-white polka dot. She, too, could have easily been mistaken for a Texas Baptist. Not that there is anything wrong with a Texas Baptist. They just look out-of-place among the stud-pierced, tattooed, shorts and cowboy boots and black leather grunge-attired of the Pacific Northwest Yankees. (My husband takes offense. He says that if you are from the Northwest you are technically not a Yankee. I don’t make such distinctions. I raised my children up in the Northwest. They are Yankee children with Southern inclinations & sympathies, but they are still born and breed Northwest Yankees.)

Starbucks was busy so my order was taking longer than usual. I stood behind the well-scrubbed couple, listening to them talk about people they knew and I didn’t, when I noticed something about the woman. She had on a sweater. Odd, since the temperature was 80. No one needed a sweater. It was one of those ribbed-sweaters, so I didn’t notice right away that the sweater was turned inside out. The little white tag on the side gave it away. Upon closer inspection I saw the dark blue tag on the back, underneath her Sally Struthers’s hair.

I was annoyed that I had noticed it because then it posed a dilemma for me: Should I approach a complete and utter stranger and gently tell her that her sweater is inside-out? Or should I ignore it and let her go about her day, merrily, until she happened to realize that she had gone throughout the entire day with her sweater inside-out?

If it were me, I’d want you to tell me. Just so you know. Anytime you see me out in public inappropriately dressed, tell me. I once went to a job interview with half-a-dozen diaper pins pinned to my pants because I had been cleaning the house and stuck them there for good measure, intending to put them in the nursery before the job interview. Nobody told me, of course, even though I passed dozens of people through the day before that job interview. Finally, when I was leaving the interview, the staff asked me why the diaper pins. Geeish. I felt like crawling into a narrow hole. But it was the Northwest and nobody thinks anything of people wearing weird things attached to various clothing or body parts, I guess.

Anyway, I spent the next five minutes in line, asking myself: What should I do?

In the end, I opted not to tell her. I just didn’t want to be the person to embarrass her.

We live in a society that seems to take pleasure in embarrassing others. The headlines are full of people who for selfish pursuits put others on display for public ridicule and humiliation. This has become an even bigger issue since the advent of a culture told to Live Life Loud.

We do. We live life loud in this culture. We take completely private conversations, emails, photos, text messages, letters, and we put them on public display for public consumption. Then we ridicule others for behaviors we deem shameful.

Remember the story in the Old Testament about the two brothers whose father ends up drunk and naked? The brothers walked backwards into the tent where their father lay exposed and covered him with a blanket they carried.

If that had happened in this day and age, those boys would take selfies with their naked drunk father and posted them to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They would text message those photos to all their friends. They would put a hashtag on Twitter and send it out millions they don’t even know. Then they would have laughed with all their so-called friends at their old man.

We are so good these days at shaming others while having no shame of our own.

In many ways, our secular culture reflects that of the Pharisees. We have all kinds of rules we want to impose on others, yet, we don’t abide by any ourselves. We’ve perfected the art of public shaming with little regard for humanity-at-large.

It’s like we are wearing our morality inside-out.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain (Mercer Univ. Press).



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