Opinion: Our Society Thrives On Embarrassing Others


embarrassedBy Emuna Braverman

Our society thrives on embarrassing others. It’s time to stop.

Imagine what the world would look like if the news media and popular culture would carefully observed the Torah’s commandment not to embarrass someone else in public. Our Sages actually compare it to murder, noting that when someone is embarrassed all the blood drains from their face.

Many of the daytime talk shows and reality TV would be gone. Even American Idol would cease. The Star and The National Enquirer would likely fold. Airwaves would go silent and newspapers would shrink even further than they have already.

Of course this is a fantasy. We’ve become a society that thrives on embarrassing others – it’s entertainment! A world where reporters complete to find the juiciest tidbit about a celebrity.

We embarrass others without even blinking an eye.

In the process, we all pay a price. We lose our sensitivity – and don’t even notice. We embarrass others without even blinking an eye. We hurt relationships, we destroy communities. And we aren’t even aware of what we’re doing. We’ve become immune. We take that way of conversation, that sense of humor, that meanness, for granted.

And it’s up to us to turn the tide. While the Torah prohibits all forms of embarrassing others, some seem particularly egregious: teacher-student, parent-child, and husband-wife (or vice versa) come to mind.

Teachers: The few teachers who embarrass their students give all others a bad name. They have the power to shape young souls and any humiliation of their pupils is an abuse of their authority, with the potential for long-term disastrous consequences.

I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t confront the high school teacher who told my daughter that her question was like that of a 3rd grader. Aren’t we supposed to encourage questioning? Ethics of Our Fathers teaches us that a bashful person can’t learn. I comfort myself with the rationalization that I don’t think my daughter was hurt by it (except perhaps in her loss of respect for the teacher) because she had enough support at home and from her friends to recognize how inappropriate his response was. She had enough confidence to ignore him. But what about the girls who don’t?

Parents: Unfortunately parents are notorious for embarrassing their children in public. Some of it seems so innocent: “Play piano for the guests.” “Show them how you speak French.” Yet it takes a toll. Our children are not circus monkeys.

Some parents think it’s cute to tell stories about their children’s past adventures. But the kids frequently find those tales utterly humiliating. We should not use our children’s lives as conversational gambits or sources of amusement.

Obviously, the worst type of parent-child humiliation includes actual insults, yelling and constant berating. All the ways in which parents compare their child’s behavior to others, attack them for actions, grades or words or make them feel “less than” are in violation of this Torah prohibition.

Marriage: I heard a radio talk show host once suggest that the worst thing one spouse could do to another was to humiliate them publicly. It’s possible there are other behaviors that make it onto the “worst” list but this is certainly up (or down) there. We can start with yelling at your spouse. Whether in public or private, this is a humiliation. We move on to insults, cutting remarks, nit-picking, and even sometimes teasing (which frequently contains a hurtful truth). All of these behaviors embarrass our spouses, hurt them and our relationship.

Maybe everyone’s doing it. Maybe your wife laughs when you poke fun at her. But inside she’s crying.

We’re not used to living with this level of sensitivity. We’re not used to a world where it’s better to shade the truth than embarrass someone. We’re not used to tailoring our speech to the needs of others, to being self-censoring. We’re not used to celebrating and reinforcing the dignity of the human being.

If we really think about it we would see that ultimately the person we’re embarrassing the most is ourself!

{AISH.com/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. How true! How many times does the world need to be told that it’s not cool to insult and it’s not cool to laugh when you’re insulted and hide your true feelings!

  2. This is a well thought out article, however I would like to add my two cents here.

    First of all, I think in the majority of instances the author mentioned, the intention was not to embarrass the victim, but rather that was the outcome.
    For example, the media doesn’t care wether their subject of bashing gets embarrassed or not – they want to entertain the public and therefore increase readers and advertisers.
    Parents and teachers too, with very few exceptions, do not necassarily have in mind to embarress their children and students, but rather by being insensitive they can cause embarrassment.

    People are human and can make mistakes, however those who continuosly keep on being insensitive to others and keep on disregarding people’s feelings and ruining their lives will eventually pay for it.
    Just as terrorists who convince themselves they are doing their murderous acts for the sake of G-d, they will still pay for all the their innocent victims, for the killing and carnage, they will not be able to hide from the truth before G-d, who will show them to be the murderers they really are.
    So to all those who hide under the curtain of bringing entertainment or enlightment to the masses, or the parents or teachers who convince themselves they are simply have to talk/act in a demeaning manner for the sake of the child’s chinuch, will have the truth revealed some day to them- they will not be able to hide under false pretenses anymore.

    People who are not sensitive to another’s pain and trample on other’s will eventually have to stand before a Supreme Judge and pay for all the pain they caused any innocent human being.
    Hashem does not forget!

  3. even if one is not feeling embarassed, or does feel it and doesnt show it, it is actually exposing a part of a person which HaShem gave to be private and only for the person’s etzem (inner self), therefore, one is actually willfully playing with HaShem’s will. it is one of the things we need to learn carefully…..from Torah sources.
    has everyone read Miriam Adahan’s books, alot of them deal with this in a “Torah psychology” way. She also has an article which is amazingly educational on Borderline Personality Disorder, a disorder which is very painful to the one who has it, and to those who the Borderline affects. It can affect entire families with tremendous pain.
    two of those:

    all these kinds of books and articles can help us to avoid tsar and tircha and pain.

  4. Media outlets and people should be very careful being metzaer yesomim and the downtrodden and abused. Hashem works for them pro bono.

  5. This is so true, and yet sadly needs to be said. The insecurities plaguing seemingly mature adults are assuaged by putting down others. We must THINK, over and over, before speaking. In such a way could we be worthy of so much.