Ryan Lochte: The Power of Public Shame



Public shaming remains one of the most powerful forces that shape human interaction. If it didn’t exist, I fear a big part of what makes us civilized would be gone with it. Politeness is not natural, unfortunately.

The power of “us” calling out inappropriate, unethical or just rude behavior keeps those behaviors in check. The fear of being publicly disowned, disdained or mocked gives us pause. The consequences have to be severe in order to act as an inhibitor.

More than losing litigation, corporations fear losing face, i.e. losing customers. This is why their lawyers and publicists stay up at night drafting internal policies to keep their employees upstanding and creating damage control plans when those policies fail.

It’s no different when the brand is an individual. As disgraced U.S. Olympian Ryan Lochte learned last week, public shame is unforgiving. If Team Lochte – by that I mean his handlers – parents, agents, or whoever – had sufficient “internal” policies in place, maybe Lochte wouldn’t have gotten that drunk to start with. Having failed a preventative measure, his handlers should have asked more questions before allowing him to be interviewed by a reporter and given free rein to fabricate a story that never happened.