Shame and Other Good News

Published: April 1, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
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“Shame,” writes author Richard Reeves (Mar. 15) “is an essential ingredient of a healthy society, particularly a liberal one. It acts as a form of moral regulation, or social ‘nudge,’ encouraging good behavior while guarding individual freedom.”

Just when I think that we’re going to politically correct ourselves off the cliff, along comes a breath of fresh air.

Reeves asks, “Where and when shame ought to be applied? Should we shame drunken drivers? Yes: they might kill my children. Of course drunken driving is also illegal. But it’s a hard law to enforce, so moral pressure is vital too: stigmatizing, as well as criminalizing. …

“Shame can also regulate behavior that is legal, but unwise. It has, for example, become an important ingredient in antismoking campaigns. Smokers have become virtual pariahs, constantly reminded that they are bad parents with bad skin and bad breath. Smoking is bad, smokers have been made to feel bad — and smoking rates have plummeted.”

While many New Yorkers feel that they’re living in a Nanny State thanks to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s regulations against large-size sugary drinks, most favor regulating those things that have the potential to harm others such as smoking and guns.

“In his famous ‘harm principle,’ ” Reeves points out, “the great liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that laws should not inhibit personal behavior unless there is a direct, assignable harm to another. But Mill also insisted that many personal choices, while legal, were legitimately ‘amenable to moral disapprobation in the proper sense of the term.’ ”

While there is nothing particularly unethical about making mistakes, if we continue the pursuit of bad choices, especially those that affect others, shame can be an effective starter of moral training. Think back when you were caught in your first lie to your parents. While you may have faced a stiff punishment, the real consequence was the loss of trust for an unspecified length of time. It was always more difficult for me to regain trust than TV privileges.

“Of course,” Reeves adds, “shame can also be a negative social force, crushing freedom and well-being, and in free societies there is a continual contest to determine the attributes, acts or attitudes that ought to be considered shameful. But that doesn’t mean shame isn’t a useful tool; it’s all a matter of how it is applied.”

I am not suggesting that the guilty walk among us with a scarlet letter, but perhaps a “moral nudge” at the right time can be an effective set of training wheels.

Good News #2: ‘Ethical Hackers’

Yes, the first time I read this in the Wall Street Journal (Mar. 27), I had the same reaction you might have. But it’s actually good news.

More and more companies are hiring “ethical hackers” to not only test an organization’s cyber vulnerability, but train employees how to become more aware of techniques used by “real-world hackers.”

Here are three tips from professionals on avoiding the traps:

“Do ‘risk analysis in a split second’ to spot emails that might warrant suspicion, says Aaron Higbee co-founder of A few questions he asks: ‘Were you expecting this? Is this an ongoing email thread that I’ve been participating in?…Have you asked around?’

“If the answer to any of those questions is no, you might want to think twice before opening a link or clicking on a link in the message.

Look for other telling signs an email isn’t legit, says Will Pelgrin, chief executive the Center for Internet Security.  The email address in the ‘from’ field might be spoofed. For example, Bob.Jones might be spoofed as B0b.J0nes, he says. Also, since website addresses can contain similar intentional misspellings or spoofs, it can be helpful to type them out directly into a Web browser, instead of just clicking on links in an email.

“Understand your ‘digital footprint,’ Pelgrin also suggests. Social engineers might take information off of LinkedIn, company websites or other sources to craft messages that sound like they come from a client, an old colleague – or even a boss. ‘The more information you post publicly about yourself via social media sites and other online sources, the more information a scammer has to use in crafting a spear-phishing email tailored just to you,’ he says.”

Take it a step further by reducing the amount of specific information you post or others post about you. How many social media sites are you a part of and how much information is on them that could be used against you?

Good News #3: Ethisphere Announces the Most Ethical Companies of 2013.

Earlier this month, Ethisphere Institute, the international think-tank “dedicated to the creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption an sustainability,” announced this year’s leaders in corporate ethics.

Of the 141 companies listed around the world, 98 are U.S. based. Among the most notable: Honeywell International, Hospital Corporation of America, Microsoft Corporation, Marriott International, International Paper, Mattel, General Electric, Ford Motor Company, Gap, PepsiCo, OfficeMax, Safeway, Starbucks, American Express, Blue Shield of California, Cleveland Clinic, eBay, Target, Time Warner, and UPS, to name just a few.

Although much of this Web site’s focus is on the unethical, it’s important to remember that there are individuals and organizations who not only do it right, but serve as a positive example for the rest of us.



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