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 ;).

What Matters Here?

I’ve heard Rob Bell say this on his podcast a few times and it’s become one of my favourite prompts.

What matters here?

I apply it across my personal and professional life, particularly when I’m feeling overwhelmed or stuck. It simultaneously anchors me in the big picture while revealing what the next right action is.

More than anything, this question is a call to presence. Much like meditation, it slows us down so that we can listen to what is. It reveals where the work is, both internally and externally, and shows us where we can put our care and attention.

Two very, very precious resources.

Productivity Is Not Peace

“Productivity is not peace. You’re never going to do enough for the doing to bring you peace.”

Ashley C. Ford said this in an interview with The Creative Independent a few years ago. She goes on to say that despite society telling us this is how we work, it really isn’t. Furthermore, it’s a mode that’s damn hard to break out of.

I’m reminded of this on a Sunday evening as I start to wind down… by first asking myself if I did enough to deserve it. And, I mean, here I am typing away at my computer so apparently the answer to that question was no.

One thing that helps me break out of not-enough-ness is asking different questions. Instead of asking, “Did I do enough?”, which is centered on doing, ask, “What can I enjoy?”, which is centered on being.

And with that, I’m off to my knitting.

My second pair of Hazelfern socks that I started in the park today! I’m using an Island Fibers merino and nylon blend that a friend sent me for my birthday.

Name It

We like to talk about the notion of better. Of doing better and being better and making better things.

We also like to talk about change. About making change and being the change.

What we forget is that both of these things are relational. Better than what. Change from what.

We are so enthralled by the notion of progress that we avoid stopping to name what we are progressing from. 

But how can we fix an unnamed problem? How can we measure progress from an unidentified beginning?

We have to know where we’re starting. We have to know what we’re working with, right now. 

If we want to forgive, we have to name what we are forgiving.

If we want to heal from something, we have to name what that something is.

If we want justice, we have to name all the ways in which the current systems are unjust. 

It sounds simple. Obvious, even. But it’s amazing the ways in which we’ll contort ourselves to avoid the truth. The ways we’ll soften our language or omit parts of the story that our discomfort has deemed unrelated. 

If we want change… we have to get clear on what we’re changing. We have to open the doors and pull everything out onto the floor before us. We have to name what we find. What we like and don’t like. What excites and what scares us. What we understand and what we don’t. And we have to be uncompromising about it. 

We need to sit with what this brings up for us and realize that this, here, is also the work.

Then, with all the parts and our relationship to them before us, we act. All the while remembering that change isn’t a beauty contest. Change isn’t content to be made or a box to be checked or a prize to be won. 

Change means having the humility to sit with what is.

Change means having the courage to name what you find.

Change means seeing things as they are, not as you hoped them to be.

And then…. then comes better.

But first, name it.

H/T to Bell Hooks’s book All About Love, Rob Bell’s podcast episode Swords and Plows and the Great Unmasking, and Barbara J. Love’s Liberatory Consciousness Framework (explained by Ericka Hines in this Reimagining Small Business Town Hall) for inspiring today’s post-walk brain dump. 

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