Humiliation

 

Jennifer Goldman

Graduate fellow at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and a graduate student at the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003


This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Can you put the idea of humiliation as one of many elements that fuel intractable conflict into context for me with an illustration or example?

A: The example I often think about is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, because it's close to my heart. It's just so rife with very sad examples of conflict. So examples of Palestinians needing to go through border checks, where you have Israeli guards trying to do their best, with good intentions, but often in the process of doing their jobs making people feel lower than, stripping people, not speaking their language but expecting them to understand what they're saying, those kinds of things.

Q: That would presumably have some percolating effect into the larger conflict from that individual experience of humiliation?

A: Right. So if someone experiences something they perceive to be humiliating, the question is, "How do they experience it? And what do they do with that experience? How do they remember it? How do they behave based on their experience of it?" So there might be some cultural mores or messages that get sent to large numbers of people about what you should do when a humiliating event occurs. It's my and Peter's hypothesis that some cultures send messages that say, "When you feel humiliated, you should really feel it and stew in it and let it stay with you, and let it linger, because it gets you something. It gets you the ability to be right and to feel like a victim, and therefore be justified in aggressing or lashing out at the person or group of people that have humiliated you." So there is this whole piece of it. We're asking the question, "If humiliation is such a horrible emotion in people.." and we're assuming that it is. No one, I don't think, likes to feel humiliated. It's not a pleasant experience to go through. If that is true, the question is, "Why does it stay with people? What does it get them?" So my hypothesis is that it gets them the ability to be a victim, which gets them other things like the ability to be justified in lashing out and being aggressive against other people, and that gets them a set of things as well.