I was walking on Bridge Street in Grand Rapids yesterday and was startled to see a huge banner under the US-131 underpass proclaiming “Shame on Ritsema.” It’s not every day that I see my name (or, in this case, a variant spelling of my name: Ritsema rather than Ritzema) openly shamed. What had the Ritsema in question done to deserve such approbation?

There were two people by the banner, a slight woman and a tall, muscular man, and I stopped to ask them what they were protesting. They said they weren’t permitted to discuss the matter, but they did offer me a flyer, which I later scanned into my computer. Apparently the Ritsema in question is a business named for some distant relative in the construction industry, whose alleged offense is failure to pay employees the area standard wage. The flyer is illustrated with a picture of a rat chewing an American flag, pictorially representing “desecration of the American way of life.”


I am more amused than disturbed by having my name maligned publicly. I react as most members of modern Western societies probably would—that this matter has nothing to do with me, that I personally did nothing wrong. That reaction is characteristic of a culture that is much more guilt-based than shame based. In centuries past, and in some cultures to this day, such a public denigration of one’s name would have been much more distressing. In a shame-based culture, the possibility that others could see such a sign and think ill of anyone who bore that name would bring distress and a sense that one is somehow less than others. In such a case, to dishonor the name I carry is to dishonor me.

I’m glad that the sign didn’t cause me to feel shame or dishonor. I’m not sure, though, that indifference to such aspersions on one’s name makes life any easier. We are still being evaluated by others, though the basis for such evaluation is not what someone says about our names but our words and actions. The onus is then on us to create a positive impression. Just as we don’t bear much shame from the reputation of our families, we don’t get much benefit from their reputations, either. Few of us anymore get a pass for our transgressions because, after all, we come from a good family. We’re responsible for what others think of us. So we worry about how we’re coming across to others. We may not feel much shame, but we have enough anxiety to take its place.