Shame Stories

The Sicilian Court Case

In February 2000 newspapers reported an astonishing hoax that took place on the island of Sicily. The ringleader of the hoax was an Italian judge. He decided to stage a fake court case with the sole purpose of having a laugh at a lawyer from the mainland. The date was fixed, the court proceedings announced, and a female prosecutor, Iolanda Apostolica was brought across from mainland Italy. Everybody was in on the joke, except for Ms Apostolica. The aim of the hoax was to spend the entire case laughing at her behind her back. To heighten her humiliation the judge assigned everyone involved in the case a name drawn from Sicilian slang. He was to be known as Judge Licazzi, the Defence lawyer as Mr Crastello and a court officer as Ms Sbardasciata. For those of you unfamiliar with Sicilian slang, Licazzi means testicles, Crastello means castrated and Sbardasciata means cretinous. So for the entire proceedings, as the prosecution lawyer argued what she thought was a genuine case, she was referring to his honour Mr Testicles, defence lawyer Mr Castrated and Court Officer Ms Cretinous.

The first the prosecution layer knew something was amiss was when a colleague flashed her a sign that said “They joke about you in court”. When she returned home she described her day to her boyfriend Claudio, who just happened to be a university tutor in Rome who knew Sicilian slang.

Once she had put two and two together you can imagine how Iolanda felt – embarrassed, shamed and humiliated. The next day her boyfriend Claudio showed up at court, walked up to the judge’s bench and spat the judge in the eye, then left a note that read “A joke from Claudio Moffa”.

You wouldn’t believe it but the judge brought real charges against Claudio. Claudio defended himself on the grounds that he was reclaiming his girlfriend’s honour. He lost and was given a suspended prison sentence. At the time the Sydney Morning Herald reported the judge was facing disciplinary proceedings.

Source: Incident reported in Sydney Morning Herald, 18/2/2000

The Mongolian Peasant Principle

I wonder if you’ve heard of the Mongolian peasant principle? It was developed during the time when Joseph Stalin ruled Russia. Mr Stalin was not a very nice person – he made a habit of sending his opponents off to prison. But before packing them off to the gulag he made them confess to crimes they’d never committed.

It’s rumoured that Stalin had a psychologist working for him who could get a person to confess to just about any crime, regardless of whether they’d actually committed it or not. The psychologist said that the secret of his success was the Mongolian peasant principle.

It works like this. Imagine a poor, shabby and “unimportant” man is brought into a large office that obviously belongs to an important person. Everything in the office smacks of authority: the dark mahogany walls; the huge oak desk; the high leather chair; the grey-haired general with rows of medals on his chest sitting there proudly and powerfully.

The general speaks to the shabby, uncomfortable visitor. “I have a million roubles in my desk drawer. Here, take a look, they’re all yours.”

“All mine?” says the shabby, uncomfortable visitor

“Yes, all yours, on one condition.”

“What condition?”

“You must press this small red button on my desk” says the general.

“What happens when I press the button?”

“An old man in Mongolia drops dead.”

“He dies?!”

“Yes. He dies at once, without any pain.”

“But why, what did he do?”

“That’s none of your business. Trust me. It is good for the people. All you need to know is that the moment you press the button, the peasant dies. And you get a million roubles”

The poor, shabby, unimportant, uncomfortable man sits silent for a long moment. Then he slowly reaches forward and pushes the red button. He takes the money and goes home. But for the rest of his life he’s haunted by the memory of what he did. He can’t bring himself to spend a cent his ill gotten gain. He’s tormented day and night, until finally, 5 years later, he commits suicide. The million roubles are found stuffed in a sack under his bed; the State takes them back on the day of his funeral.

“You see” Stalin’s psychologist says, “everybody has a Mongolian peasant in his life. Everyone has done something for which they feel deep shame. I hunt around in their memory until I find it. Then once I’ve found the peasant I dangle him in front of their eyes until the person is writhing in shame for being such a wretched human being. He will confess to anything to atone for his shame.”
Source: reported in Lewis Smedes, Shame and Grace