Before Michael Douglas warned us all that exposure to beautiful actresses can give you throat cancer, he delivered us another message:
We all remember that, right? At least, we all remember that line. Here’s the line wrapped in a little more context:
“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.”
Please don’t think I’m here to lionize Gordon Gekko as some kind of shining example of the American spirit. I think everyone but the most ardent, right-wing, business-criminal lunatic can see that the character serves as a satire of 1980s business culture. You know, really off-the-wall, can’t possibly be real people like Mortimer or Randolph Duke.
But, even in the most unlikely, or hard to listen to statements; sometimes there’s a bit of truth. Sometimes that truth is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t make it any less true. “Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind” sounds like something a Goldman Sach’s executive with half an erection might blurt out, coked out of his mind, while getting an expensive-but-not-great BJ from a disinterested hooker.
It’s also kinda true. Sorry, I don’t like it either.
Which brings me around to the point. I’m going to say something that can also be pulled out of context, and make me sound like a tremendous asshole, but I’m going to say it anyway:
Shame is inherently a good thing.
A lot has been made lately, in the media, about “shame words” and “shaming tactics.” Like a lot of things, these discussions started off as something important and worthwhile, and seem to have gone completely off the rails, as things tend to do when language is involved. Topo and I did a short podcast recently where, amongst other things, we talked about the importance of nuance in language. I touched on shame very briefly, saying that like with racism, sexism, and other prejudices; you can’t just police language. Intent is the driving force. It always has been, always will be. I promise you, no one is ever surprised to find out that they’re racist. It’s something that exists in their mind and in their heart. It’s a terrible thing, to be racist, sexist, homophobic, or anything else where you hate a group en masse. You might also say that those ideologies are, well, something to be ashamed of.
Now, obviously, a lot of people are never going to be ashamed of those types of beliefs. That’s fine. Well, it’s not fine fine, but it is what it is. But, the nice thing is, that some people will feel shame about it. And maybe they’ll try to change. That’s a good thing. I realize I said that you’re never going to surprise someone by telling them they’re a whatever-ist. That, in my experience, is always true. But, explaining to that person why that’s bad, in essence, shaming them, could very well lead to the reflection that leads them to change.
Obviously, saying shaming someone for being a transphobe or sexist is good, isn’t really controversial. So, let’s talk about fat-shaming.
Here’s an anecdote: I went to visit my folks a little while back. My dad is one of those “no filter” types. He will literally tell you whatever he thinks, whether you want to hear it or not. He’s also a great cat, and I love him a bunch. Here’s the first exchange of dialog we had:
Shaunn: Hey dad, you look great. Looks like you lost a bunch of weight.
Shaunn’s dad: Yeah, and it looks like you found it all. You’re getting fat, bud.
If I was writing this for a Salon article, this would be the point where I started talking about how his reductive language sent me down a shame-spiral that led to a crystal meth habit that’d make Jim Carroll blush.
That’s not to say I didn’t feel shame. Honestly, I sort of felt like shit. But, even though I was mad for a minute, and my feelings were kind of hurt, it made me look at myself in a way I wouldn’t have if he’d just said “you look great too” or tried to give me a Ned Flandersish speech about how he was concern-diddly-earned about my cholesterol or something. Oh, and by the way, saying “well, it’s different to tell someone you’re concerned about their size, because of their health” is just the opposite side off the shame coin. You’re telling the person you’re concerned about their health because they’re fat. But, if that shames them into taking better care of themselves, then I’m good with that. Remember, it’s the intent that’s important. In both of these cases, “you’re fat” and “I’m concerned about your health” are manifestations of the exact same intent. My father wasn’t saying what he said to be cruel, he was concerned, and that’s how he expressed it.
Now, does that mean you should just try to shame random passersby into bettering themselves? Of course not. Honestly though, if you were raised by normal humans, you know that already. Someone that doesn’t understand how a person comports themselves in society has way bigger issues than what particular words they use; and Lauren Conrad not using word like “skinny” in her clothing line ain’t gonna change anything they do. Oh, and Lauren Conrad’s words don’t necessarily match her intent, as her clothing line apparently only goes up to size 8. I’ve got a ton to say about restricting language, which we’ll get a little deeper into next week.
So, that’s about where we’ll leave shame and shaming. There’s a little more I wanted to say, but I’ll wait to see if you guys want to hear more. I’m going to leave you with an excerpt from “The Recovery Value of Guilt Shame and Remorse” from the Recovery Ranch rehab and treatment center:
“interestingly, these negative feelings are not, per se, a bad thing. In fact, when an addict experiences some degree of guilt, shame, and remorse after violating his or her core values, especially when this behavior has harmed not only the addict but other people, it is actually a very good sign. These feelings show that the addict does indeed have a moral compass, that the addict does actually know the difference between right and wrong. In this sense, the “negative” emotions of guilt, shame, and remorse can become catalysts for long-term sobriety, positive behavioral change, and a healthy life. In essence, the desire to not experience these feelings in the future helps addicts to not repeat their past mistakes, at the same time encouraging the development of empathy for others and the making of amends to those harmed in the past.”
Til next time, baby,