Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Pandemic Shaming-- or do you just call it Corona-shaming

Here I thought I was being original. A man on telehealth worried that if he had  Covid-19 that others would think he deserved it and worse, that he had done something irresponsible, something that put not only himself but others in harms way.

Jason Gay is always funny
Being in harm's way is exactly what those on the frontlines in treatment are rightfully concerned about, or would be if they gave it any serious thought. It is a given that those of us who are not have the right to a healthy social distance from others who might harm us. The implication is that if we get the virus it is because we got too close.

Jennifer Weiner writes in the New York Times. Pandemic shaming, she says, is alive and kicking. Finger pointing is a big deal. Photos on FaceBook, videos. See? No mask. A crowd in the park.

Ms. Weiner is angry (she writes in present tense and I'm pretty sure she's over it). She notes that the anger she feels when she hears about those who put us all in harms way. They have had contact with corona-positive friends or loved ones, yet still wander out into public without a mask. George Stephanopoulos is the prime example, his wife ill with the virus, front page news, and yet he is spotted without a mask at a pharmacy. The establishment serves older people.

NPR ran a story about Brian Glazer. He's on his yacht, perhaps the size of a city neighborhood, talking about how tough it is being in isolation. I try to empathize but Brian but he probably has a bowling alley on board.

The story worked, properly shamed Mr. Glazer. He apologized for his thoughtlessness, for complaining that he can't fly wherever he wants. He has so much.

Now with the economy opening up and expectations that the numbers of cases will rise, we'll have a new phenomenon: State Shaming.

And I didn't even start with athletes shaming. Or biker shaming. Especially those who sweat.

The finger-pointing, the direct accusations about putting others at risk, this is what upsets  Ms. Weiner, and me, too. She rightly recognizes that her anger is driven by fear; it is a measure of exerting control. She credits therapy for the insight, and nicely de-stigmatizes therapy, thank you dear, in the process.

Damon Young, she writes, the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker, has seen his share of pandemic shaming. But it is mostly aimed at poor people, people of color.
But posting pictures of non-compliers on social media, or calling them out to their faces, is unlikely to help. It might even make things worse. And it comes with risks to groups who are already suffering more than most from the virus and its effects.
“When there’s a mandate to snitch or to shame, that’s going to disproportionately affect black people,” Mr. Young said. “When you call the police on a group of black people, you are threatening their lives.”
If there is an opportunity to point a finger at someone we want to hate, we're going to do it. Human nature, insecurity, the need to displace self-hate and fear, to fop it onto another, schadenfreude, these are the things we contend with on any typical day. Some are vigilant, on the hunt for another good reason to hate (with self-righteousness to go). Party time on social media.

Try being in Germany in the late 30's and early 40's. The Nazi's had a field day.

But back to being a patient who fears getting sick because of the fear of blame, for causing it somehow.  Mind-blowing that this should even be a thing, a fear, but it is. For some people, having the virus triggers shame for having done something wrong, perhaps going to buy groceries-- even with a mask-- and being outed for it. It is a raw feeling irrationally associated with innocent behavior. The patient feels more at risk of social castigation than death from the virus. These types of patients are the first to keep their distance, the first to disinfect.

Many of you remember when the word "cancer" had to be whispered or never mentioned at all.

Shaming is another way of making people feel good by putting someone else down.  It reminds me of an old Bob and Ray joke. One of the two would say in all earnestness,

"I like to bring myself up by putting other people down."
This always makes me laugh because it is so true of so many, many people.

Parents do it, shame their children. The point is that the kids will refrain from whatever it is that they are doing that is bad (hands in the pants, among other serious crimes). It works if the child is young enough, but adds baggage to the rest of their lives. They come to therapy with guilt for wanting to punch someone in the face.

A word about anger

Anger isn't a bad thing.  Anger is normal. It is violence that is bad.  

We might say that shaming out of anger on social media is a type of verbal and emotional violence. 

As I said to the patient, as I have said to dozens over the years:

If anyone ever does that to you, shames you--about anything--which is unlikely because you are the nicest, most empathetic person on the planet-- consider the source. Then feel pity. If you must respond try something along these lines:
I feel sorry for you. I really do. And walk away. Or simply, Must be hard to be you
Because most of the time if you call someone out on something that person will lash back at you in response, not cower. (Think about your own response to the driver of the car behind you, honking. It is a reflexive hand gesture). Nothing to be gained from this.

 The shame is in the shaming. Just this therapist's humble opinion.