In Prince Edward Island where I spent many a happy summer, the Island went silent on Sundays, especially in the morning and particularly if you were Catholic. Everyone was at church. Or at least they should have been. No one was supposed to work. But, as I was to discover, many did. The hay was ready to be mowed. Rain threatened. So too, livelihoods.
Nevertheless, there was a moral argument to be made. And there was one priest who was bound to make it. “Sinners,” he declared. “Sinners. Look at all these empty pews. There is no excuse. They should be at church. They will rot in hell.” Then he ordered the bells to be rung for 5 minutes so that the ‘sinners’ would know for whom the bell tolled. During this time we were expected to pray for their eternal souls.
The experience was terrifying to a young church goer. And conflicting. I felt implicated because my uncle was one of those who had stayed home to work in his fields. He laughed when I told him about the sermon. “Don’t pay any attention to him,” he assured. “He does that every summer and I’ve stopped listening to him. So have most of the farmers around here. That’s why the bell rings for longer and longer periods. He thinks he can shame us into returning to church.”
It was a moment of truth. My uncle wasn’t a bad person. In fact, he was kind and decent. The next Sunday I noticed my Dad had chosen to stay home to help my uncle get his crop in. “Can I stay and help too?” I asked. “Of course you can,” he said, “but you better get out of those church clothes.”
Be careful when you try to shame. Especially if you are out to persuade, engage or convert. Shaming spreads to far more people than you think. And they just might love or be loyal to the recipient of your ridicule more than to you and your message.
Hardly anybody recognizes the most significant moments of their life at the time they happen. (W.P. Kinsella)