Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic (1996) has become a modern classic in sociology. The author James Gilligan, M.D., was director of mental health for the Massachusetts prison system, then directed the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard Medical School. Those experiences allowed him to trace how shame causes violence, and see how the present penal system exacerbates shame. Here are some quotes from Chapter 5 “Shame: The Emotions and Morality of Violence.”
- I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed, and that did not represent the attempt to prevent or undo this “loss of face”—no matter how sever the punishment, even if it includes death. (p. 110)
- The purpose of violence is to diminish the intensity of shame and replace it as far as possible with its opposite, pride, thus preventing the individual from being overwhelmed by the feeling of shame. (p. 111)
- The secret [that violent men would die in order to not reveal] is that they feel ashamed—deeply ashamed, chronically ashamed, acutely ashamed, over matters that are so trivial that their very triviality makes it even more shameful to feel ashamed about them, so that they are ashamed even to reveal what shames them. And why are they so ashamed of feeling ashamed? Because nothing is more shameful than to feel ashamed. (p. 111)
- A man only kills another when he is, as he sees it, fighting to save himself, his own self. … This is what I mean when I say that the degree of shame that a man needs to be experiencing in order to become homicidal is so intense and so painful that it threatens to overwhelm him and bring about the death of the self, cause him to loose his mind, his soul, or his sacred honor.
- [One precondition of violence is] when men perceive themselves as having no nonviolent means of warding off or diminishing their feelings of shame or low self-esteem—such as socially rewarded economic or cultural achievement, or high social status, position, and prestige. Violence is a “last resort”… (p. 112)
- The violence-engendering ethos of “rugged individualism,” and the social Darwinism that continues to dominate so much public discourse, make it almost impossible for us to take care of people without humiliating them first. (p. 120)
- When discussing how the rituals of imprisonment are “total degradation ceremonies” intended to shame, subjugate and humiliate, Gilligan says, “If the purpose of the imprisonment were to social men to become as violent as possible—both while they are there, and after they return to the community—we could hardly find a more effective way to accomplish it.” (p. 155)
Missio Nexus will also be hosting a webinar “The Gospel of the Kingdom for a Violent World” by Werner Mischke on Feb 11, 2:00-3:15pm EST.
Here is a summary: Honor-based violence makes the news daily. Yet the church is often weak in its understanding and response. Discover how the dark side of honor and shame fuels violence. Examine how Christ’s honor-sharing “gospel of the kingdom” offers a powerful cure for violence—a living hope and powerful message for the world today. Register here.