Monday, February 06, 2012

Shame - what I don't want in my work

I’m reading this book (Shame: Theory, Therapy, Theology by Stephen Pattison) in connection with an essay I’m writing theologically reflecting on discipline in youth club contexts.  The general idea is that the leaders of a youth club have to manage behaviour so that young people are safe physically and emotionally.  This means that the leaders, who are usually adults, need to be able to do something in relation to young people that addresses behaviour where that safety is compromised.

There are some limits, and rightly so, on what adults can do in this situation.  We can’t use any kind of corporal punishment, and it isn’t good practice to use manipulations such as ridicule or threats, again rightly so.  Stephen Pattison makes a very strong case that shame is more pervasive and destructive than we might initially think, and that Christian faith, and church communities, are particularly vulnerable to problematic shame. 

He discusses the impact that being shamed by others can have in later life and describes some of the ways shaming happens.  This has led me to reflect on the way I work with young people.  I wonder if there are things I do unconsciously which have a shaming effect?  When you work with young people there’s a certain amount of banter that goes on both between young people, and between young people and adults working with them.  The risk is that this can cross a line and become something that is damaging or shaming to young people. 

Another situation that might induce shame is where someone’s failure is pointed out to them, especially if others witness it.  It occurred to me that one of the things we use as a sanction in our youth club might be doing this.  If a young person is behaving in a way that impacts safety and refuses to stop when asked, then we might call their family and ask them to take their son or daughter home.   This will have the effect of shaming that young person to the people that matter the most to her or him.

I’m still pondering Pattison’s writing but I know I would never want to add to the burden of shame so many people carry.  There are some examples of Jesus interacting with wrong-doers and he seems to avoid adding to their shame.   In the story of Zacchaeus, everyone knows Zacchaeus has done wrong but Jesus’ action in inviting himself round for a meal seems almost the opposite of shaming.  Similarly, when he speaks to the Samaritan woman in John 4 and the woman caught in adultery in John 8, he manages to address their wrong actions but also to avoid shaming them any further than they already have been.  

So my question is: How does that translate into dealing with behaviour in the youth club?  To ask the obvious question: If Jim kept waving the pool cue around like that at Youthspace Capernaum, What Would Jesus Do?

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