Shunning is a rather arcane word. History and religious studies students come across it when studying groups such as the Amish. Strict, living their lives according to set rules, they shun any one of the group who leaves or breaks one of their cardinal edicts. Ignore them. Do not speak to them.
Shunning hurts and it is alive and well in offices, schools, neighbourhoods, families. All of a sudden you are invisible to former friends, fellow workers, classmates, members of charity groups, family members. As far as they are concerned, you don't exist.
People you worked with, people you shared money with for a common cause, students and teachers you slogged through a semester with, blank you.
You rattle your brain trying to think of what you did wrong. If you are brave, you ask "What's the problem?" And you get the brush off.
Basically, they have no use for you anymore. You don't matter.
Psychologists recognize this as the cruelest form of punishment. So do jailers. That's why they send prisoners to the "hole" – solitary confinement.
Shunning makes the news too when it kills. These are the (usually) young girls who fall victims to cyber-stalkers. Using the mask of anonymity, they attack the vulnerable ones, driving some to suicide. Too often the victims stay silent, read the abuse and are pushed to the point of seeing killing themselves as the only way to stop the pain.
Miss Teen U.S.A. spoke out when a voyeur hacked into her webcam and tried to blackmail her. Applause to her. Also, a couple recently told a horrifying story of hearing the voice of a man who had hacked into their baby monitor screaming in the middle of the night to their child: "Wake up baby!"
You do not have to be famous to be a target.
Hackers too can tap into phone lines (think of the journalists hacking into the phones of Britain's young royals), computers and send harassing messages to people that person deals with – teachers, friends, bosses, service people. These folk think, of course, the messages came from you, especially if they have taped your voice. Unless the recipients Know how vicious spyware and hacking can be, they won't believe you when you say, "But it wasn't me."
At this point becoming a hermit sounds mighty fine. Stop. That is what the psychopaths want. Instead, take your information down to the local police station and find a stalker savvy detective to listen to you. Take that same info to your lawyer. Act. Use your power. Don't isolate yourself. Yes, there are stalker laws.
A recent YouTube video shows a young man garbed in sweats, a toque, runners. He seems to become ill, falls to his knees, collapsing on the ground. It's a busy city street with people hurrying by him. He calls out for help. Again. And again. Not one person stops.
Another man does the same thing. Only this time he is wearing a classy business suit and shiny new shoes. When he calls out for help, many stop, come to his aid. It's a staged video designed to show how society shuns the poor even when they cry out for help.
Society shuns them, blanks them out.
When people do this, they also shun Pope Francis' teachings. He just recently appealed to the UN to engage in a "worldwide ethical mobilization" of solidarity with the poor.
"Specifically this involves challenging all forms of injustices and resisting the economy of exclusion, the throwaway culture and culture of death which nowadays sadly risk becoming passively accepted," said Pope Francis.
"In this world of globalization we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others; it doesn't concern us; it's none of our business. Today no one in the world feels responsible for this; we have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility."
The same can happen in neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools, even families.
A relative who had had a knee operation, in pain, all alone in his apartment, wrote in his Facebook posting, "I have no family."
He does, but his mother shuns him. He said she sent a telephone message, after seeing him after a 25-year absence, saying her therapist told her to pretend she never had children.
He's a tradesman, does not drink, has a good soul, cares for others.
When people shun and/or encourage others to block someone out of their life, their abuse of power tells God more about them than the person being denied a sense of belonging.
(Lasha Morningstar firstname.lastname@example.org)