The Absence of Shame
I know shame. While practicing law in a small firm, my partner shorted some clients out of money. I had nothing to do with the matter, was not the attorney of record, made no court appearances, did not negotiate the settlement, handled no money and was not aware of a problem until after the misdeed was done. I even put money in a trust fund to ensure that the clients were made whole. Nonetheless, according to the Bar, I didnt do enough to prevent the misconduct from occurring. So much for justice. To this day, the public rebuke cuts like a knife. And it should.
Not all forms of shame are beneficial. It can be used to control and ostracize. Moreover, the response thereto can be maladaptive. Adaptive self shame however is different.
Self shame is the remorse one feels when his/her behavior falls short of a self-imposed standard of behavior. It is the embarrassment one experiences when a situation reflects him or her poorly or cast those who love them in a negative light. This is true even if a person does their best, is completely innocent and/or did everything right.
The narrative of adaptive self shame is, I am disappointed in my performance here but I am much more than this. More importantly, I will learn from this experience. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-knowledge/201211/adaptive-and-maladaptive-shame.
Regrettably, whether by radicalization, personal trauma, a sense of entitlement or victimization, the thirst for power, the need for attention, cognitive dissonance, fact aversion, plausible deniability or just plain greed, there are those who suffer the absence of shame. And the condition appears to be growing.
For a cheap plane ticket and 15 minutes of exposure people will clown on national TV. Tune into Jerry Springer or even Dr. Phil and you will see that there is no longer anything that you cant discuss in public. People reveal the most painful and embarrassing aspects of their personal and sexual lives and apparently feel no shame about doing so. In fact, they want to expose themselves. Everybody wants to be on television, to be a celebrity even if its only for a few minutes. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shame/201304/when-is-it-appropriate-feel-shame.
Or consider current political leaders, one in particular who routinely calls women bimbos, speaks of people being schlonged, of women having blood coming out of their eyes, blood coming out of wherever or having a face too unattractive to be President. He calls the people of an entire state stupid, mocks the handicapped and then lies about it and brags about shooting someone in the middle of 5th Avenue in order to prove his political manhood. And rather than express any humility whatsoever, he excuses this banality by claiming that he was only joking. As if shooting someone is ever funny. This is the absence of shame.
Wonder further about a political spokesperson who in the 2012 presidential race lamented the lack of what she called pure breeds. And when confronted with her absurdity she blamed Twitter opponents for allegedly calling her a half breed. She needed to go back at them with the same silliness. And this from one who is of mixed heritage.
But, the absence of shame affects more than just politicians. Members of law enforcement including judges and prosecutors break the law each and every day. They take illegal drugs, drink to excess, drive home while either intoxicated or under the influence and then go to work the next day where they convict and incarcerate people for doing the same thing they did the night before. Worse, they lose not one wink of sleep over it. This is the wont of regret.
Our ministers tell us to avoid sin yet sin vigorously; to be humble but are anything but. And still they preach, collecting tithes and donations every Wednesday evening and every Sunday morning.
Governors poison entire cities in the misguided attempt to save money and still they govern. So called patriots slander their own country; hate their own government and still call themselves patriots. And rather than chase the truth, the media chases celebrities and ratings by covering the crude, the sensational and the profane, all without embarrassment.
Ironically, those without shame insist on shaming others, demanding contrition, taking umbrage and expressing outrage at any who disagree.
But we, the children of bondage may be the most shameless. Given the state of our families and communities, the broken promises of the Civil Rights Movement, the wasted opportunities, how we look, dress and act not to mention the deplorable way we treat each other, how can we not be ashamed?
In conclusion, we seek no fame, preferring to keep our dirty secrets to ourselves. Nor do we pursue perfection. We are fully cognizant of our sins. The above referenced Bar situation is not the only thing I regret. Yet, it may point to a greater purpose.
There are no sinners absent a future and no saints without a past. And one cannot find redemption without first knowing pain.
Therefore, we would rather know the discomfort and vulnerability of shame than not. We would rather think twice about what we say and do, sympathize and empathize with others, and consider how our words and conduct impacts the universe than the opposite.
We should know shame when appropriate. We should feel remorse when warranted. No matter how much it might sometimes hurts the ability to be embarrassed; to feel shame is what preserves our humanity. And I for one would rather be a vulnerable human than an invulnerable inhuman.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum