Shame Doesn’t Lead to Behaviour Change, Accountability Does

This morning on her podcast, Unlocking Us, Brené Brown published an episode called Brené on Words, Actions, Dehumanization, and Accountability. I think it’s an incredibly important listen.

Horrible things are happening right now. Horrible, destructive, violent acts of white supremacy. We’re also (understandably!) seeing and feeling a lot of shame and fear.

Brené does a wonderful job of explaining why although we so want to shame people, that “othering” doesn’t lead to behavioural change. Accountability does.

Shame drives things underground, and change and accountability don’t happen there. Maybe you’ve seen that in your own family systems (pushing down or ignoring bad behaviour, pretending something didn’t or isn’t happening). Like Brené mentions in the podcast, we can see this stuff play out in systems across every level of our society, from family units all the way up to national governments.

I’ve been spending time studying how what we’re seeing now is reflective of patterns that have played out across history, and these are some questions that are helping me:

  • What happened? Name it. (Which requires vulnerability)
  • What got us here? (Curiosity)
  • What would someone have to believe to act this way? (Empathy)
  • How could we design more just and resilient systems, where accountability is baked into the whole thing? (Creativity)

I’m working hard to develop a critical lens, to be a discerning consumer and a responsible builder. I’m full of questions and uncertainty, but I can tell you this:

I will not fight fear with fear.
I will not meet shame with shame.
I will not put another human below me and call that progress.


Photo is the cover of Elise Gravel’s book Not Bad, seen in the window of Queen Books here in Toronto. Something about these words felt, you know, related ;).