While most of my website posts focus on traditional farming practices and our farm activities, I do try to discuss and explain the core values that serve as the foundation for traditional self-reliant living. If you want to understand how rural people think, you must first understand the core values upon which their perspective on life is based. I would like to offer this post as a contribution to that understanding.
In my most recent (February 3, 2019) post entitled “Imagine,” I made an observation about the humble nature of rural behavior patterns that helped focus my thoughts on the subject for this post. In it, I wrote that rural people “…reserve judgement of you until they get to know you. If they should say or do something that unintentionally offends or harms you, they are quick to apologize and eager to make amends. You can sense their shame and regret reflected in their facial expressions and the tone of their voice.” This behavior pattern is common among people who feel truly sorry for the offenses they may commit, whether unintentional or intentional. They feel a strong sense of shame for their actions that motivates them to apologize and make amends, even if only by altering their behavior or attitudes.
Whenever I interact with front-line customer service representatives for large businesses today, I find them eager to apologize for any inconveniences that their product or service may have caused. To me, that is a patronizing apology, because I know that they have no influence to ensure that the business will modify its behavior to prevent the infraction that caused my complaint from occurring again. They just want me to feel better and perhaps defuse any anger I’m feeling that they may have to listen to, but have no power to address. While they might be able to feel some sense of shame that their employer caused harm to one of its consumers, they don’t have to internalize it personally because they know they don’t have any effective control over the business’ operations. The fact that any shame they might feel for my problem does not reflect on their own self-image means that any apology they offer may be insincere. The knowledge that such apologies that people get from big businesses and government are basically insincere is what contributes to the overall impression that modern society is cold, impersonal, and unfeeling. I also see it as a consequence that the businesses and institutions driving our society today are simply too big to internalize any sincere concern or remorse for an individual.
I hear many ‘tabloid’ news stories on the radio about people being harmed by ‘body-shaming.’ In essence, their self-image is being destroyed by people criticizing their appearance. While this is a form of bullying, which should bring a sense of shame to the offender, it is the victim who is internalizing the shame. As one who was a frequent target of bullying when I was young, I have come to learn that a positive self-image is not something that you can obtain from other people; it is something that you must be able to give yourself regardless of what other people think or say about you. As I see it, the core of the problem is that most people today will internalize personal shame from the criticism they receive, rather than the things they do to harm other people. If shame is something that can devastate a victim’s self-image, it is reasonable to assume that it can be an effective way to prevent people from being insensitive to others. The traditional rural people who raised me taught me to internalize shame (and guilt) for my actions if they harm someone else, not if someone else does something to me. That is one of the core values of traditional, self-reliant living that appears to have been forgotten today.
We seem to live in a society that is reluctant to punish people for harmful actions. Our legal system goes to great extent (and expense) to defend people who commit crimes, even when they are caught red-handed in the act or there are so many witnesses to the crime that there is no reason to question their guilt. More and more people protest against the death penalty as an inhumane form of punishment. There is no question that it can be if innocent people are executed, but we also have a problem if a convicted, unrepentant murderer is able to murder again. In states where the death penalty has been prohibited by law, the maximum sentence that can be issued is life in prison. However, I hear that Pope Francis now considers life-time sentences to be inhumane. I don’t wish to debate these issues in this post. It is our apparent inability to decide what form of punishment society should impose for transgressions against innocent, law-abiding citizens that I wish to address. In other words, how should society dissuade people from bad behavior that violates basic community standards of acceptable behavior?
I guess some people will never accept any form of punishment as an appropriate response to bad behavior. However, the lack of any punishment for acts of aggression toward others makes the innocent victim the only person who will ultimately be punished. Just go back to my earlier discussion of body-shaming to see how that will be the consequence. Can bullying be effectively controlled by demonstrating greater sensitivity for the person who bullied rather than the person who was bullied?
What I’m trying to say is what will our society be if there is no effective way to enforce ‘NO?’ One of the biggest issues being advanced today by the ‘Me Too’ movement is the violation of sexual assault victims by people who can’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Our law enforcement system has a hard time with that, because violating ‘no’ does not become a prosecutable crime until the rejection has already been violated. It also has a difficult time convicting the criminal when there is no clear and documentable evidence that it is not just a he-said/she-said argument. Wouldn’t our society function so much better if the criminals would simply accept ‘no’ as an answer? If you do not want tough law enforcement or stiff penalties for violations, you need to find some way to ensure that people won’t exercise their liberties so selfishly that they can freely take advantage of or harm law-abiding citizens.
At this point, I’m sure you want to ask me what all this has to do with farming or traditional values. Has the cheese finally slipped off my cracker? Well, I’ll answer that for you. You see, there is a segment of our society that does a very good job with that very issue. Although no segment of society is, or ever will be, free of criminal activity, there is one segment that has very low crime rates and does not use prison or the death penalty as a deterrent. It is the Amish. They don’t believe in the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ approach to justice, and they don’t exact prosecutorial vengeance against known criminals. They won’t even defend themselves with guns. What they will do, however, is punish an unrepentant person for violating their values of social decency by ‘shunning’ them from their community. They find that their practice of ‘shunning’ criminals is the best way to make the violator internalize some meaningful sense of shame for the crime he or she has committed. Of course, the fact that their social code also promotes strong values of civility and imposes great restraint on personal egos are contributing factors to their success.
Now, many people will not want to live by their specific values of social decency, but that is not the point I’m trying to make. The point is that they use ‘shunning’ as an effective, non-violent tool to deter people from violating their basic values, regardless of what those values may be. If you wish to criticize this approach, then compare it to our modern law enforcement system and show me that it is less effective. It is certainly less expensive. Of course, this approach works better in the context of a small, rural society than it does in a big city, which is why I am using it as a way to show how traditional rural living can be fundamentally different from urban living and how it is based on different core values. Perhaps it shows why rural living and the strong core values it typically embraces can be a fundamentally better way to live. Can you see how my discussion of shame relates to traditional rural values? All I can say is, if you can’t, what a crying shame that would be. Consider it fresh food for thought from Peeper Pond Farm to you.