It’s not ok to shame. We’ll agree on this. We say no public shaming, no body shaming, and no victim shaming. Some of these are easy no notice and some are just hard. But today, I want to talk about a type of shaming that we might not even realize we’re encountering or, or even doing ourselves. I’m calling it ”shame-teaching”. This is when someone tries to teach you something but makes you feel dumb for not already knowing it. It’s not just unhelpful; it’s harmful, and it’s something we need to talk about.
What is shame-teaching?
I think shame-teaching is the process of trying to teach people something and blame them for not knowing that. Maybe you already have some examples of this but let me entertain you with two examples and then we can talk about it in more detail:
I’ve seen way too many startup founders, even some with years in the industry, get this wrong: Growth hacking is not the same as digital marketing. I cringe every time someone uses them interchangeably.
Growth hacking is an experimental, data-driven approach specifically aimed at growing a startup’s user base quickly. It involves a deep understanding of product metrics and often requires technical skills to implement automation, create viral loops, or optimize algorithms.
Digital marketing, on the other hand, is a broader practice that encompasses various strategies like SEO, content marketing, and social media advertising, usually over a longer timeframe.
If you’re a startup looking to scale, knowing the difference is crucial. Misusing these terms promotes a shallow understanding of both, which can be detrimental to your growth strategy.
Notice how the author makes it seem like this is basic knowledge that everyone should already know? That’s the shaming part. They’re not just sharing information; they’re subtly (or not so subtly) making you feel less knowledgeable for not knowing it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard even seasoned developers make this mistake: DevOps is not just about deployment automation. Let me be clear, DevOps is not your glorified SysAdmin pushing a button to deploy code.
DevOps is about collaboration, culture, and breaking down silos between development and operations. It’s about automating the entire software delivery lifecycle, from integration, testing, and deployment, to infrastructure management.
So when you say “We need DevOps for deployment,” you’re missing the entire essence of what DevOps really is, which leads to inefficient practices and fragmented teams. It’s time to stop reducing DevOps to deployment and understand its broader implications.
Again, the tone suggests that this is obvious, and you should have known it already. By framing it this way, the author alienates the very people they claim to educate, creating an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality.
These examples aren’t pulled from real life, but if you’ve spent enough time on social media platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter, you’ve likely come across posts like these. So what’s the issue here?”
Short answer? More interactions. People love to find experts and worship them. If we agree on this, what others will try to do? Pretend to be experts. How do they do that? By claiming that they always knew something and they’re surprised that others don’t.
What do I think? I think they’re just showing off something that they just learned.
I see this as a form of shaming. I also suspect that maybe they are ashamed of not knowing this sooner and want to separate themselves from others who still don’t know.
I always had a problem with calling people masters. We do that all the time in Farsi. We call people “Ostad” as soon as we find out they know something we don’t, not even a category, a single topic. I’ve been called that and I tried to correct them to stop calling me that. I’m not trying to be humble here. No, I think it’s just wrong. That doesn’t even mean I knew more than them. It just means I knew something that they didn’t know before and after that, we’re equal on that specific matter. Other than the person who invented that technology for the first time, others just learned it. So at best, I’m just a vessel for transforming that knowledge to someone else. I may know more than others but it wasn’t inspired to me, I actually learned it from somewhere.
Is there a better way?
You bet there is! If the goal is to educate and share knowledge, there are several ways to do it without making others feel inferior for not knowing something. Here are some suggestions:
The “Today I Learned” Approach
Instead of pretending you’ve known something forever, why not be honest? For example, say something like, “Today, I learned that growth hacking and digital marketing aren’t the same thing. It’s an eye-opening distinction that can make a difference for startups.”
Instead of stating facts, you can encourage dialogue by asking questions. “Did you know that growth hacking and digital marketing are different? What are your thoughts?” This opens up space for a discussion rather than a lecture.
If you’ve learned something from someone else, it’s always good to acknowledge it. “I recently read an article by [Author’s Name] that taught me the difference between growth hacking and digital marketing.”
Share the Learning Journey
People often appreciate it when you share how you came to understand something. “I used to think growth hacking and digital marketing were the same. But after diving into some research and case studies, I’ve learned they’re quite different.”
By taking one of these approaches, you create an inclusive learning environment where everyone feels welcome to participate, ask questions, and share their insights. After all, we’re all on a continuous learning journey, and it’s far more enjoyable when we can go on that journey together.
And a final word: as I said there are a lot of forms of shaming and I hope this post is not one of them. If it is, educate me. Either way, remember: Share what you know, and share how you learned it.