It’s your first week at a new job, and you’re still getting used to it. You still need a map to find your way around the place, and you can’t remember everyone’s names. You’re using up so much energy just trying to adjust to the work, the culture, and the navigation of it all that you fall asleep on the couch at night with the TV remote in your hand.
This morning you pick out an outfit that you believe fits the company’s dress code. You go online to the job’s website to check, and confirm that it’s okay to wear that.
But on your way to a 10 am meeting, one of the bosses stops you in the hall and tells you that what you’re wearing is inappropriate. Then she hands you a “shame suit,” a neon yellow outfit emblazoned with the words, “Dress Code Violation,” and tells you to wear it the rest of the day.
You apologize for your error and suggest going home to get clothes, but she is having none of it. She sends you to your meeting. People are snickering at you, and you feel like an idiot. By noon, a photo of you in your shame suit is on Facebook and Instagram. You have a stomach ache, and you wish you’d never taken the job.
What can you do? Call the ACLU. Your rights have been violated.
But what if you’re a high school kid, and this happened at school? Because it did, to Miranda Larkin, a 15-year-old who was new to Oakleaf High School in Clay County, Florida. She was so humiliated, she started sobbing and broke out in hives.
What’s the lesson here? School officials seem to think the lesson is that that people with power should bully people without it to shame them and scare others into behaving the way they want them to. Think: Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter.”
But shame never works. Shame says, “You’re a bad person for doing that. Here, let’s publicly mock you for it.”
Discipline, on the other hand, says, “You goofed. We all make mistakes. Don’t make that one again.” And it looks like this:
Person in power: “Your outfit doesn’t fit the dress code.”
Person who made a mistake: “I didn’t know. I’m new here.”
Person in power: “That’s okay. Is there someone at home who can bring you appropriate clothes?”
Person who made a mistake: “Yes, my grandma. I’ll call her now.”
Either way, she won’t wear that skirt again to school. But with shaming, she’ll feel horrible about it and about herself. And that’s a shame.