Friday, April 17, 2009

shame & public intoxication

On a flight from Las Vegas to Minneapolis/St. Paul, there were 3 young people behind me who were just barely old enough to legally drink alcoholic beverages. Over the course of an hour or two, they drank all the vodka on the plane, then switched to another liquor, getting louder and more obnoxious as they went. As their language became more profane, I grew more annoyed. Finally, in response to some kind of wisecrack from hir drunken friend, one said, “don’t embarrass me!” I turned my head and said over the seat, “actually, you’re doing a pretty good job of that yourself.” They were *much* quieter from that point forward. The woman next to me whispered, “thank you.” The youth immediately behind me pressed hir knees into my seat a few times, and said just-loud-enough comments about my bald spot, but they were much less annoying for the final hour of the flight.

Now, I wish I had spoken to them earlier, asking them politely, instead of shaming them—and I do not know if it would have worked, anyway. I think it’s easier to ignore a request than it is to ignore the powerful emotion of shame.

Second, I wonder how much one’s upbringing and culture play into this. Had they grown up in families where shouting and public use of obscenities were common, would they have been shamed by my comment?

I still feel guilty about ruining their good time, and about resorting to shame to quiet them. Was this an appropriate use of shame?


At 9:57 AM, Blogger Charlie Talbert said...

Your scolding was appropriate in my opinion, in the regrettable absence of attention by the flight attendants.

Having depleted the plane’s supply of vodka, it’s doubtful these passengers would have discerned a more nuanced request to behave.

Shaming is a powerful motivator. Its misuse can be so unhelpful or even devastating, though, that its rightful use too often goes unappreciated.

My guess is they will remember your zap and be the better for it. (I still haven’t forgotten a few I received in my younger days.)

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Hopefully you are not *too* ashamed of shaming those inebriated "young adults". I think that your response was quite appropriate in that particular circumstance and very much in line with what I would have said myself in the same situation. It's what I call the "Eat Your Words Diet" and a few U*U ministers have been put on that regime. I think that I probably would have tried to more politely intervene earlier but I know that, precisely because I am quite even tempered, easy going, and slow to anger that I might not have.

I agree with Charlie that the flight attendants bear a high degree of responsibility for not only doing nothing but serving them so much alcohol to begin with. . . It really is not your *job* to intervene deal with those unruly people.

It is indeed easier to ignore requests, or even fairly strong demands, than it is to ignore the powerful emotion of shame. Unless of course you are completely and utterly shameless, in which case it is remarkably easy to do all three. You and other U*Us know where I am going with that. . . ;-)

I think you did just fine overall, even if you could have tried to intervene more politely earlier.

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

In short, the woman sitting next to who whispered "thank you" pretty much said it all.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Mudwitch said...

O.K., the “young Jedi” would like to rejoin the conversation. I am also looking for alternatives to shaming others into socially appropriate behavior. I know from personal experience, giving and receiving, that shame can be a blunt weapon. The degree to which I am willing to use shaming behavior on others is the degree to which I am willing to inflict it on myself. So I find a reflexive, instinctive use of shame conflicts with my values regarding self-care and mutually caring relationships.

The best alternative to following my instincts I have discovered so far is developing the spiritual practice of Nonviolent Communications. It would be fun to role play Chip’s situation in an NVC context.

I expect Chip’s response worked as well as it did because one of the young people created an opening, almost an invitation to intervene, by saying out loud, “don’t embarrass me.” Despite retaliating with digs literal and figurative, Chip was able assume enough authority to provide order for the rest of the flight. He may have even succeeded in putting them into “cognitive shock,” the kind of embarrassment where you just can’t think and all the snappy comebacks come to you hours later. Would Chip’s tactic have worked with a larger, older, angrier threesome? I doubt it and I bet Chip has the common sense and survival instincts not to have tried.

I don’t know what kind of relationship Chip might have had with three young adults who may have been trying to hang onto to their Las Vegas party vacation. Turning around in his seat to talk to him might have earned him his seat mate’s scorn, but I find it an interesting question.

At 8:08 AM, Blogger Chip said...

thank you, Mudwitch, for offering a "middle path" here. And there is something in your statement about "enough authority" that rings very true. Had I had sufficient authority from the beginning, I might have tried a gentler approach earlier in the event.

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Mudwitch said...

Don't we all face those hindsight is 20/20 situations? I was mulling over one myself just yesterday.

The flight stewards didn't use their formal authority, perhaps due to previous unsuccessful experiences on flights out of Vegas? You would have had some informal authority if you had choosen to build a relationship by starting a conversation, but how were you to know that you would need that kind of relationship and with whom?

As adult learners the best we can do is reflect, learn from experience and maybe come up with some nifty little visual metaphor to help us remember what we've learned. In this case I'll say I wish that what had started in Vegas (their drinking) had stayed in Vegas.

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Quite evidently the flight attendants made sure that did not happen. . . All the more reason for them to deal responsibly with the outcome of their serving the young adults too much alcohol.

At 10:48 PM, Anonymous Errant Frogs said...

In the movie Doubt, someone at some point says that when you correct someone else's behavior you take a step away from God. It really hit home for me as I tend to me one who is too quick to say something in situations like you describe. Like the last flight I was on, when the guy next to me was texting on final approach. "What are you, the hall monitor," he said to me as I asked him to put the electronic device away. I was 100 percent correct, people around me were relieved that I said something, and I felt like, indeed, I had taken a step away from righteousness. It feels like that every time. Perhaps I should make a note of that again.

At 7:16 PM, Blogger Mudwitch said...

Is anyone else in this conversation familar with Nonviolent Communication? Some folks prefer to call it Compassionate Communications. Marshall Rosenberg is their founder. He doesn't claim any new information or insights, just his own take on using some tools that have been around awhile. There's plenty of information on line and I'm guess most libraries have his books or books by his co-horts.

NVC can seem clumsy and hokey at first and it sure takes practice. But get the hang of it and have it work for you a few times, and you too, may find yourself hooked.

If shaming is about judging other people and communicating our disgust in hopes that their fear of being isolated will get them to change their behavior, then it only works if they care about connecting with yus. Some folks comply, some comply with resentment, some push back and some get violent.

NVC teaches how to use ones own judgments as information for personal discernment--what I need to know to take good care of myself. When communicating a request to others using NVC, I try to keep my opinions, evaluations and judgments to myself. What I share are my observations of the situation, how I am feeling, what I need and a request that allows someone else a choice. The next step up for a beginner like me is to learn how to draw that information out of the other person, to become a compassionate listener.

Small group ministry has spread through UUism pretty well. The small group format is a good place to practice deep listening. My congregation has a scattering of NVC offerings. For me, it represents the next step in compassionate listening. It also offers an alternative to my knee jerk shaming and blaming behavior.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Chip said...

Wow, E.F., thanks for the powerful quote. It feels more Buddhist than Catholic to me, but it's good advice nonetheless.

Mudwitch, I have heard of NVC; perhaps it is time to really embrace it. Sounds like a good project for me to engage with my Committee on Ministry.


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