Shame as a Motivational Technique

In Tom Verducci’s entertaining book, The Cub’s Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team […]

Larry Parsley / 6.14.17

In Tom Verducci’s entertaining book, The Cub’s Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse, he describes an incident very early in skipper Joe Maddon’s career. In 1986, Maddon was managing the Double-A Midland Angels in Texas. They were a bad team who had just suffered another bad loss. Maddon was apoplectic. He found a newspaper stand, purchased a variety of papers, and began cutting out the classified ads. Later, he taped up these “Help Wanted” advertisements all over the clubhouse, including on the backs of bathroom stalls. The message was clear: “If you’re not going to play baseball hard and you’re not going to play baseball well, these are your alternatives!” It felt like a good idea at the time, but he later learned the lesson that “there was no room for negativity in a clubhouse.” And you could arguably say that paradigm shift helped Maddon go on to break the 108-year World Series drought.

I can only imagine the psychological dynamics that drove Maddon’s cutting and pasting — the “creativity” of the idea, the intentionality to purchase the papers and cut out the want ads, the motivation to ensure that this not-so-subtle message could be seen pretty much everywhere. I can only guess that, in that moment, Maddon received a temporary release by offloading all his shame for his losing record onto others (all under the ploy of “motivation”).

In my line of work as a senior pastor, that temptation is ever-present. Let’s say the church is not performing at optimal levels. Attendance and giving are down; key people are leaving; new initiatives are underperforming. You can feel the malaise as you drive onto the church parking lot. As a result, emails are sent, frustrations are vented, and sometimes the manager bears the brunt of it. But on Sunday morning, standing behind God’s pulpit, the temptation to turn the tables is so seductive: a seemingly off-the-cuff remark mid-sermon comparing the behavior of “some modern Christians” (see the couple sitting in the center section, five rows back) to those darn Pharisees (or Philistines…but rarely the Amorites…very rarely). For the pastor, that dark impulse to shame the shamers is like that of the pitcher, throwing high and inside to retaliate for a previous inning’s grievance.

What is it about shaming that feels so tantalizing in the moment? Is it the brutal clarity of the message? The visceral reaction it so often sparks? Now, baseball is a game of numbers, and players with low batting averages and high ERA’s and few wins tend to know the score. Players, like pastors and church members and people in general, need honest conversations about painful realities. But shame? Shame is an “epidemic,” and it sure ain’t helping us play above .500. What we crave is for someone to see us at our worst, to see what anyone with a box score can plainly see, and yet still say: “Who condemns you? Neither do I condemn you.”

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3 responses to “Shame as a Motivational Technique”

  1. Josh Retterer says:

    Love this!

  2. Lori says:

    Cubs Maddon and Mockingbird, don’t think it could get any better than this.

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