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Shame: The Root of Violence


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Poulson, C 2001 , 'Shame: The Root of Violence', paper presented at the The Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism, June 30th - July 4th 2001, Dublin.

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Violence takes many forms, from emotional to physical, from individual to group to societal, from swift to chronic. The greater the violence the more likely it is that question asked is "Why?"

The roots of violence, in organizations and in society as a whole, are in emotion -- more specifically, shame.

Shame is a misunderstood emotion that has come into focus only in recent years. Some will argue that it is the lack of shame that leads to violence and that the solution lies in shaming of offenders (Braithwaite, 1989). In that sense shame, or perhaps the avoidance of shame, is seen as a deterrent. It is a means of shaping behavior in keeping with contemporary societal norms. Getting the offender to accept the shame reduces the probability of future offences.

In the view of others (see for example Scheff, 1994, Nathanson, 1992,) shame is a negative affect arising from social experience, physiological origins, or both. In this sense shame is a disruptive experience for the self and thus may trigger negative consequences for the self, others, or both. Gilligan (1996) has argued that shame is a necessary but not sufficient precondition to violence.

In an exploratory effort to look at the link between shame and violence, the words of two mass killers will be analyzed. Thomas Hamilton killed 17 at the Dunblane (Scotland) Elementary School in March of 1996, and Kipland "Kip" Kinkel who killed his parents then drove to Thurston High School (Springfield, Oregon) the next morning and killed two more people and wounded many others, both wrote of their situations before they killed. These documents (or fragments thereof) are examined for indications of shame. In the analysis the works of Gilligan (1996), Nathanson (1992) and Retzinger (1991) are used as a basis for examination.

The paper concludes with a discussion of the need for greater understanding of the link between shame and violence and for methods of reducing the negative effects that shame plays throughout the course of life.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Authors/Creators:Poulson, C
Keywords: Shame, violence, school violence, workplace violence, paralinguistic markers of shame,emotions
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