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The Cause & Effect of Public Shaming

Many sociologists believe that people are a product of their surroundings. If one grows up surrounded by drug dealers and crime, then they have to fight hard for a future that is free of crime. In fact, children that grow up surrounded by criminal elements, are more than twice as likely to exhibit criminal behavior. Similarly, someone who has the good fortune of being born into a family of wealth is generally taught the drive and determination from their family, and has the resources and relationships to carry this wealth forward. Take President Trump for example. As he says, “I am a self-made businessman. I never got any wealth handed to me … just a small, $1 million loan from my father when I was younger.” 

However, the life that we lead, in my opinion, is not just created by our surroundings, but is governed by a series of “cause and effect” situations. In short, we all learn—or don’t learn—from our individual life’s lessons. I firmly believe that we don’t learn anything from our successes. Our losses teach us about life and about our flaws. In fact, once you achieve success, you will realize that some of the sweetest moments are the bitter ones; the times when you were flat broke and had nothing to do. 

We go to college expecting to graduate. We go to a sporting event expecting to win. We go into a business transaction expecting to become the next Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Warren Buffet. Yet, we very rarely make contingency plans for the unlikely event of failure. While many have adopted NASA’s claim that “Failure is Not an Option,” failure is where the most valuable life lessons can be learned. Yes, they can be an extremely expensive tuition, but it is the best education that we can obtain.

As I look back over my life, I can recall some of the most magnificent times of success. Times when I closed hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate transactions and achieved my goal of “net worth” in excess of $1 million by the time I was 25. Times when I was serving as the chief of staff for Margaret Thatcher and becoming the founding director and Treasurer of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. Yes, as a young man that was pretty cool! In fact, I spent time with some of the world’s most prominent and respected businessmen, national leaders and community servants—all before I was 30-years-old. 

There were times when I was brought into companies and asked to use my turn-around skills to create extraordinary value, real estate assets and management teams, where failure was not an option. And there were times when I was able to use my acquired skills to become an elected official, and step into a large community service position to create harmony, a thriving economy and an incredible sense of community.

Yes, I love sitting back and remembering these times of success. But these memories are generally always overshadowed by times of failure. People don’t go into relationships, companies, or even business transactions expecting to fail. We all, of course, expect and dream about success. But failure happens every so often. Fortunately, we live in a country where success can occur, yet we also live in a county where we can fail. The good thing about America and failure is that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution eliminated Debtor’s Prisons, so no one can be sent to jail for failure. And Cannibalism has long since been illegal. So, people can’t eat you if you fail! Simply put, failure is not a life or death situation.

I remember vividly sitting down in the living quarters of 10 Downing Street with Lady Thatcher. We were having a conversation about Capitalism and its comparison with Socialism and Communism. She said that the “Capitalistic society is by far the best, as you can use your time, treasures, and talents to succeed. And if you do not succeed … yes, Capitalism has no safety net and can let you fail. However, Capitalism permits you to pick yourself back up, dust off, and try again to succeed. It doesn’t matter how many times you try and fail, there is always that one more attempt that you can make as long as your inner-drive and determination have not gone wobbly on you.”

The fundamentals of what this great “Iron Lady of Wisdom” taught me still exist today. However, in today’s world of the “Citizen Journalist,” we now have the ability for everyone to share their own individual comments; comments that can sometimes be very caustic and threatening; comments that in a millisecond can be spread throughout the social media stratosphere. It is clear there is the ever-present desire to pounce and villainize your failures, or even the slightest missteps, by whomever wants to. Regardless of the many successes that you have had along the way, all it takes is that one stumble—stumble in your words, your actions, or even your moral compass—for your friends, associates, and people you do not even know to pile on and ridicule, castigate, mock and shame you for your most recent failure.

Often, as you are climbing up the ladder of success, you have many folks who want to hang onto your leg as you are working hard to achieve new heights. They want the fame, glory and economic benefit of success. Yet as you start to stumble and slide down that same ladder, these folks are the same people that are stepping on your neck, and giving you a nudge to help you to the bottom. Of course, they never would have made the same mistakes that you, the inept businessman, the immoral or addictive individual, the horrible person made along the way. And, so it begins. The “Public Shaming” game that makes everyone feel good about themselves, because they never would have been as dumb as you to make those same mistakes. And when the shaming begins, you never hear about all of the good that you accomplished along the way. The focus is on your failure, as it is fun to participate in the gossip of the public square.

As mentioned, I have learned so much from my failures, yet have not learned a single thing from my successes. Failure can be one of the most important aspects of helping to create a well-rounded human being. 

When I was young, I played on a High School football team in Wilton Connecticut. My senior year, we played Newtown High School and won the state championship. Yes, Connecticut is a small state, but we were the state championship team nonetheless! We trained hard, we worked long hours, we were coached to win. Yet we played a very talented Newtown team, and we very easily could have lost the game. There was success and there was failure in that game. 

In today’s helicopter society, we play sports where a participation ribbon is all that is required. In some situations, we are not even allowed to keep score. What is this teaching our children? How do we educate them that there are consequences for success and failure?

Success happens in life. Conversely, failure happens in life.

When success happens, you get the proverbial “ata-boy” and everyone high-fives you. Yet when failure happens, you get the cold shoulder and comments are made quietly when you walk into a restaurant, a grocery store and yes, even a place of worship. Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.

How does one cope with the “public shaming” that has become endemic in today’s society, especially with the pace that social media can rip you to shreds before the failure has even been accomplished?

Having been a former elected official, I have lived in a very public space. Consequently, I have had my share of “public shaming” along the way. Some might say that I am truly an expert in the public shaming space. Not as the “shamer,” but as the “shamee.” As an entrepreneur and a person who lives in a world of optimism, I have taken my risks along the way and have had my share of failures. It has become ever-increasingly hard to simply let the “public shame” go in one ear and out the other. Today’s society will simply not let that happen. As I sit back and reflect on this “public shaming” space, I have become more and more concerned about this “Shaming Movement,” and feel that a countermovement is needed.

But how does one get through such a public and humiliating shaming situation? To find the answer, I feel that we need to go back in time to reflect on the advent of social media.

In 2008, I wrote and published a book titled, One Nation Under Blog … Forget the Facts, Believe What I Say. At the time, I was growing ever-concerned about the unintended consequences of the internet. Yes, I was working with folks in the social media space that felt it was an incredibly useful tool, and that it was going to be a society-changing device for the good of humanity. Yet my take was much different.

I was concerned about the Citizen Journalist, with no checks or balances such as an editor, a publisher, or even a Walter Cronkite ensuring the “truth and nothing but the truth.” After all, what people were posting, tweeting, blogging, writing copy or even forwarding an article was being taken as “gospel.” If it was on the internet, it must be true. I was afraid of a society that would ensure that people were “guilty until proven innocent.” Yet in one’s quest to prove their innocence, the damage was already done, and the reputational consequences were cast in stone and never erased, regardless of their evidence of innocence or rationale behavior.  

Perhaps an even more important reason for “One Nation Under Blog,” was the concern over society’s ability to cope (or not to cope) with this new technological tool. Consequences of cyber-bullying were starting to ramp up, as we started to see youth in our society being tarnished and attacked on the internet. When these individuals did not have the tools to deal with the bullying, the lives of many of our wonderful youth were snuffed out through suicide. As a parent, I cannot imagine the pain and suffering endured as a result of burying your child, much less for reasons of bullying. I wanted to educate and help create dialog from youth to their parents, from grandchildren to their grandparents, to enable our society to have the tools to get through the difficult times. After all, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

I felt so strongly about this matter that while I was mayor of Sugar Land, my Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, consisting of some of the most talented youth from our local schools, created an “Internet Safety Program.” This program had the high school peers go into the “feeder” middle schools, and holds Internet Safety programs to educate eight-to-thirteen-year-olds, at a time when they were so extremely vulnerable. I have never been so proud of the youth in our community; I know that they saved thousands of lives as a result of their efforts. In fact, after we mastered the program in Sugar Land, I went on the board of advisors of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as the board of trustees for the US Conference of Mayors, and we worked with the Department of Justice, the Attorney Generals of both Texas and the United States, and rolled out an internet safety program to over 1,300 cities across America. I am convinced this award-winning program—designed and created by the youth of Sugar Land to protect youth throughout the nation—has had a positive impact on countless lives across America.

How do we create a similar program, a movement of sorts, to help people cope with today’s cyber bullying, which is, after all the public shaming in the world of the cancel culture?

In exploring this issue, I have come to the conclusion that as a society we can come together for the good of humanity, and use the same tools of social media, and the internet, to educate and enlighten folks about the need and consequences of public shaming. We need to articulate that others have been successful at getting through this process. We need to share examples. We need to understand that folks can stumble along the way, yet we can still hold them in high regard for the many successes and accomplishments they have achieved. After all, as a great educator and spiritual leader Jesus Christ once said, “let he who has no sin cast the first stone.” Put a different way, and in my own words: “Let he who has never failed be the first to shame your failed neighbor.”

I am hopeful that this “Shame Happens” movement can equip humanity with the tools to maneuver through the landmines of public shaming, and can offer examples and steps on how to cope and get through this difficult time. Similarly, I am hopeful this movement can also become a teaching lesson to those who are quick to spew public shame on others. Remember, people take action and make decisions with the hope and desire for success. In the same way that accidents happen while driving your car, failure happens in life. You did not mean to have the car accident, nor did you mean to have the failure. You are still a good driver based on the myriad of times you have driven safely, and you are still a great human being based on the many successes you have had in life.

In order to start this movement, and in an effort to encourage others to share their stories of success, failure and public shame, I would like to share the highlights of my own story, and how I have been able to take my failures and my public shame, and dust myself off, and continue to another goal of success.

To learn more about David Wallace (Former Mayor or Sugar Land) you can visit his main website: www.davidgwallace.com as well see him on the following:

C-Span (David Wallace)

About.me (David Wallace)

Wikipedia (David Wallace)

Mr. Wallace was also featured in a news store in KTVN.

He has also has 2 other websites for his books besides the Shame Happens with a bio About David Wallace.

1 Nation Under Blog – Written by David G Wallace

Safeguarding Homeland Security – Written by David G Wallace

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