Sometimes shame is a good thing. It’s what holds civilized society together. But some people are shameless and throw their cigarette butts on the sidewalk. Some people who are rich and powerful like some priests or television stars or Hollywood moguls or politicians seem to be shielded from shame. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
But more importantly sometimes shame is a very bad idea.
In the first place, it is bad for your health. Joseph McCarthy, Joe Paterno, and Roger Ailes died quickly after they were publically shamed. (1) John Conyers was recently hospitalized for stress.
In the second place, sometimes shame is worse than useless. There has been a widespread presumption that the problem of obesity is caused by not being embarrassed enough by it.
That’s not true. People with weight problems are terribly and maximally stigmatized in their own eyes as well as every body else’s. And shame is ineffective in fixing it and leads sufferers to avoid health care and shut in and out.
The American Academy of Pediatrics just came out with a policy statement warning about the stigma of obesity. (2) However, after saying all those important things about how terrible it is to blame and stigmatize kids for obesity because it is nobody’s fault, this policy statement still goes on to say that advice about “lifestyle” should be given tactfully. How is that not saying that it is somebody’s fault?
It is also dangerous to be black; it is very dangerous to be poor; but for these problems, as well as for so many other diseases, the most important thing that a doctor can do is admit is that we have nothing to offer except commiseration, consolation and education. Talking about diet and exercise in the context of obesity should only come after that admission and really that particular kind of advice is good for everybody and should not be just for the obese.
John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org or phone-354-6605.
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