THE BLOG

Shaming Criminals Could Reduce Crime

03/25/2014 12:29 EDT | Updated 05/25/2014 05:59 EDT

Have you ever seen a dog wearing a cone over his head? Those big, clunky plastic cones that keep them from licking a wound? Its official name is "Elizabethan Collar." It works. It just looks ridiculous. I sometimes think that these dogs and cats know that it looks ridiculous and they feel embarrassed. All the humans, and I wouldn't be surprised if the animals as well, know that this is a symbol of failure. A cone of shame. OK -- a little bit of anthropomorphism.

The point is that there is a symbol clearly visible that speaks to failure. We could use some "cones of shame" in the people world in aid of crime prevention.

This past February, the Globe and Mail published an article by Colin Freeze, "A History of Violence."

It is a sad commentary. Between 2003 and 2013, 155 young men, boys have been murdered in Toronto community housing. Freeze went on to report that in 2011, 22 per cent of the of Toronto's homicides and 35 per cent of all shootings take place in TCHC yet only six per cent of the population live in these areas.

According to this article, 158 Canadian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan during the same period. We have lost something very important to a well-functioning democratic society: a sense of shame that comes with responsibility and obligations to one's family. Yes you are your brother's keeper. Yes, you must care for the stranger.

There have been many studies done about the importance of intact families -- the presence of fathers in the lives of their children. Yes, it's true, two-parent families are better able to lift themselves out of poverty and provide more time for their children. Let's face it: a one parent family is a challenge.

There are only so many hours in a day to provide food, clothing, shelter, playtime, help with homework and keep eyes on the neighbourhood. There was a time when adults were around the community all the time, keeping an eye on all the children. They were reporting a child's misbehaviour to the parents. It was a group responsibility.

There was a sense of shame when a child misbehaved. Apologies were given, then punishments were handed out. Hurt feelings? You bet. Better to hurt feelings through shame than take "feelings" out with a gun.

Whatever happened to shame? And guilt? Without shame, there is no blame. There is nothing over which to feel guilt. I have often wondered what would happen in our society if instead of sending guilty gang members to prison we re-instituted shame by forcing the guilty party to wear a sandwich board explaining the offense, or into old-fashioned pillories in the public square.

Put up a sign explaining their misdeeds. Provide a large basket of ripe tomatoes for the residents. It is important that the tomatoes be ripe because we don't want to add injury to insult.

I doubt that will happen. We live in a world that now worries about micro-aggression -- hurt feelings that are subconscious -- rather than a world that worries about physical aggression to the point of murder. Progressives would worry about the attack on the poor boy/man's self-esteem.

It seems as a society, we have come to the conclusion that the root cause of so many of our ills is a lack of self-esteem so we are all caught up with giving our young people a sense of self-esteem. We start our sentences with, "I feel..." Perhaps the time has come to start our sentences with "I think..." and then do some critical thinking before finishing the sentence.

If we taught more critical thinking in our classrooms, we would graduate thinking students who will develop their own self-confidence through thought and reason rather than leave school with a false sense of self-esteem. As Bill Gates wrote a long time ago, you aren't given self-esteem, you earn it through behaviour, deeds and accomplishments.

Being in the pillories might embarrass a young person and cause him...shame! Do you think that other gang members would want to end up in the pillories, too? Would they want to emulate someone who has been shamed in public or ridiculed, too? As far as hurting their feelings, many shootings take place amongst and within gangs because of slights -- a sense of being "dissed." Hurt feelings. And if a few others get hit in the crossfire, well...

It might be advantageous for the younger children to see what happens when you fall into a gang. Gang life might not look so romantic. They might not look up to these people anymore and would be open to other role models.

Ask the mothers who bury their children. Ask the mothers of those who kill if they would have preferred a little more shame in the culture.

Whatever happened to shame? It got put out away in a basket, somewhere in a very deep drawer, covered with other obsolete items, like religion. Shame is a Biblical word, like guilt, forgiveness, repentance, atonement.

These are words that describe actions that are based on responsibility -- to oneself and others that do not fit in with our entitled culture which is about rights, and feelings.