Just musing

Lack of shame pathway to other ills


The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.

Disgrace. Ignominy.

I grew up in the 70s and was a teenager in the 80s.  I think my generation was on the tail end of believing in the concept of child discipline.  I remember how I grew up and the rigid set of rules and guidelines that had been placed around me.  I remember knowing that if a teacher sent home a bad note, it would never even cross my parents’ mind that it was due to the teacher having a personality conflict with me.  That note guaranteed one thing — well, maybe two.  Significant punishment combined with an ass-whoopin’!

If I was acting up in a store or other public place, I didn’t need to wait for my mom or dad to shoot me a look — a look that I had learned from a very early aged had better be heeded or else it would be met with significant punishment.  And an ass-whoopin’!  It didn’t need to be a look from my parents.  Any adult would suffice.  Because, if I were to ignore the reproachful gaze of another adult and that fact reached my parents’ ears, I was in for not one, but two ass-whoopins’!  One for misbehaving and the second for embarrassing them!

But this idea of learning how to behave was not relegated to just being around adults.  My peers taught me this same lesson and they were equally harsh at times.  When I was asked to cover the outfield in kickball and the ball came flying to me, I had better catch it or I was going to get some nasty comments floated my way and guarantee last pick the next time played.  (Note, there are kids today who have no idea what kickball is or what I meant by ‘last pick.’)  When it came time for lunch, if I brought my Star Wars metal lunchbox to the middle school lunch table, I would have been made fun of for the rest of the school year.  Probably longer.

It’s all about context — the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event or situation.  Star Wars lunch box in kindergarten?  Two thumbs up.  In 8th grade?  Not so much.

Context is the filter we learn to utilize to avoid shame, assuming we learned the concept of shame to begin with.  Without shame, there is no need for context.  If we have no fear of repercussions then why do we care if something is appropriate or not?

I’m of the very strong belief that shame is a necessary concept to ingrain in our children.  If instilled, nothing feels worse than to feel ashamed.  I’ve talked to many adults my age and older and invariably they will all say that getting a spanking or being grounded was easier than being told they had let mom or dad down.  That sense of shame will haunt you constantly, sometimes fooling you into thinking it had finally gone away only to hit you just before falling asleep and forcing that horrible pit in your stomach to open once again.  It messes with your self-esteem in ways that make you want to avoid ever acting that way again.

But, when no shame exists, there is no longer an internal mechanism to help control bad or aberrant behavior — the behavior that is out of context from what is considered acceptable or productive.  It also leads to an over-inflated sense of self-esteem, which leads to self-aggrandizement and, eventually, delusions of grandeur.

For example, I had a discussion with a young man who was an entry-level data entry assistant.  It wasn’t exactly an exciting job.  In this case, he was mad that he was being asked to handle a side project that would likely mean working late a couple of hours during the week or over the weekend.  His comment was, “When the clock hits 5:00PM, I’m supposed to be gone.  What the hell is this crap?”

Curious, I asked him why he felt he was only capable of working until 5:00PM?  He could not articulate, instead opting to compare it to how mad he used to get about doing homework.  He said it never made sense to take schoolwork home because school was for school and home was for home.  Ahh, the logic of the simpleminded.

Amused, I pushed and asked if he thought that would apply to athletes, too?  He stared.

I swear, there are times I wish I had my iPhone ready to snap off a picture when moments like this happen.  The stare was priceless.  I actually think I heard a rubber-band or two snap in his head.  If I had let him sit in silence longer, I may have been greeted with a wisp of smoke and the smell of burning rubber.

However, rather than let him wallow, I followed with, if your example holds true than an athlete works only when on the field or on the court and that’s it.  No waking early to run.  No time in the weight room.  No time spent reading up on an opponents record, reviewing film or discussing strategy and tactics with the coaching staff.  Because, home is home and the field is the field, right?

Sometimes, I think I’ve come up with the perfect analogy to derail an inane argument.  Other times, I’m greeted by such ignorance, that, were I to create a character like this in a book or screenplay, no one would believe it possible for someone to be that dense.  Here I was, smiling at the thought that maybe I had gotten this young man to see the light when he shot back, “That’s different.  They get paid millions of dollars.  If you wanted to give me millions, I’d be happy to work extra.”

The concept of working hard and putting in more time on his own was anathema to him. This was a kid who was raised with no sense of shame.  It never even crossed his mind to think how ridiculously he was acting and thinking, or that maybe by doing more than his co-workers he might stand out for that next promotion.  All he knew was it wasn’t his job to do anything extra outside of working hours — unless he was going to get paid handsomely for it.  The concept of working hard FIRST and being rewarded LATER utterly escaped his diminutive mental faculties.

As I walked away, I realized I had hit upon a notion that helps explain why our country is in the shape it’s in.  When you have no concept of how ridiculous you are being, when you have no context to allow you to see how to (or not to) behave, you live in a perpetual narcissistic bubble of egocentrism.  You truly believe the world revolves around you and thus owes you something, while you are not expected to contribute in any way.

This notion explains why so many are okay taking government handouts.  They are not ashamed to be on the welfare dole.  Hell, we don’t even try to create that sense of shame anymore thanks to the EBT card!  Now, it looks like just another person paying with a debit card.  The only way we catch-on to those folks, more often than not, is to see them buying better food than we can afford with their card and then paying for alcohol, cigarettes and lottery tickets with cash.

Gullible%20Occupiers_imageThis notion explains the entire “Occupy ___________” (fill in your favorite big city name) crowd, who wanted everyone to see what victims they were, with their iPads, smartphones, American Eagle jeans, Aeropostale shirts and North Face jackets.  They were the 99%, remember?  They were the victims, having never really worked at anything beyond getting a mostly worthless degree and sponging off their parents.

We are not helping our kids by absolving them of this life lesson — this lesson of shame.  I truly feel sorry for kids who literally have no clue about life and the “real world” because they’ve never been forced to understand it and learn how to behave within it.  They have always been given a trophy, even for a losing season.  They get told they are the smartest, greatest, most talented person in the world and then they can’t figure out why no one on the outside of their bubble feels the same way.  And because they lack shame, they have no problem playing the victim card, saying it’s the other person’s fault for being too stupid to recognize how great they are!

What we need our youth to grow up understanding is that life is hard, demanding and unfair, so get over it.  Learn how to struggle.  Learn that you don’t always win, which means you don’t always get a prize.  Teach them that when they don’t do what is expected (or more than expected), they will not succeed.  Teach them that to be rewarded for failure is a horrible thing and should never be acceptable.

Teach them, that when the teacher sends home a bad note, it’s not because the teacher hates them.  It’s because they are trying to get you to understand that if you don’t learn how to behave today, you will never learn the tools for success tomorrow.


5 thoughts on “Lack of shame pathway to other ills”

  1. Expect excellence, but practice grace.

    While I never claim to have been a candidate for parent of the year, I do have a unique perspective with which I read this blog entry. In every parenting class or magazine or book I drank in along the way, guilt and shame were concepts that we were told to avoid in parenting. In our desired obedience to the “raising amazing children” muse, we have inverted the whole concept of making our children feel less than worthy of significance into a place where we allow them to feel more worthy than others. We are teaching dishonesty and now reaping the rewards. We give them options where options should not exist teaching them that they have control over all things. We tell them that they were the BEST at whatever they were doing leaving no need to dedicate themselves to improved performance. We cover up their imperfections in a quest to maintain what we have told them to believe about themselves and shatter any chance of their learning to make choices that reap legitimate rewards.

    The mantra I tried to follow, although not always successfully, read “Expect excellence, but practice grace.” This allowed me the freedom to teach them with the ultimate goal of true success in future situations.

    In order to affect behavior, we chose to teach our children from a biblical perspective. The heart is at the root of our behavior. Our guidance included showing them that not only are our hearts filthy but also that through God’s redemptive plan, we are able to seek His will and behave in a way that brings Him glory and honor. These behaviors will ultimately groom children to a sense of individual responsibility and, therefore, grace for others as well as themselves when it is warranted – which, in God’s economy, is always. When grace is truly experienced through responsible discipline, the response is gratitude and a desire to offer that grace to others which is different from the motivations of reward and evasion of punishment.

    Grace grows individual responsibility. Individual responsibility teaches context. Context helps develop our filthy hearts into one that reflects God’s character and ultimately molds the heart which controls behavior.

    I think that ultimately Alan’s point is correct, but I am hung up on the word shame. I interpret his point as being one of teaching context. The connotation and denotation of the word shame are different from embarrassment, but society has melded them together to include the feeling of shame with the compunctious spirit displayed with embarrassment. So, yes, we need to be able to interpret context in any given situation. How we teach context is really the variable that is left up to us to decide. Jesus came to forgive our sins and deliver us from shame. Who am I to misuse my authority over children to shame or embarrass them for the purpose of molding behavior?

    Shame? Maybe not. Context? Absolutely. Occupy ________? Absurd lack of personal responsibility and discipline. Now, that’s a shame.

    Alan, I appreciate your openness and the reality with which you write. Maybe your context development was similar to mine, but I’m grateful to have your show to listen to and writing to read. You make me think. (I’ll never get back the two hours it took me to write this, but my brain has been stretched again. You rock.)

    1. Cheryl:

      Thank you so much for not only reading, but also responding to this blog post. I loved reading your response and I think we are on the same page. When I used the word “shame” I was referring specifically to the dictionary definition: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself. To me, shame refers to the inner voice that exists to say we’ve done something wrong and should feel bad about it. The idea, in my mind, is if we learn what causes us to feel ashamed, we can avoid those actions or behaviors.

      I understand the Biblical concept of shame as you described it and was not meaning to pull that particular strand into the conversation, though I see how it occurred. I was really trying to articulate the notion that we need to instill in our children, at an early age, a way for them to learn proper behavior and, by doing so, give them a kind of inner-compass, directing them on the right path. The compass needle moves based on the intensity of the shame we may be feeling if we continue down the wrong road.

      There are no easy answers, of course, but I know the work-ethic I have is a result of not wanting to let people down. I don’t want to feel “ashamed” that I had failed or wasted someone’s trust in me. I would want to do my very best to prove that trust was worthwhile. I never (and still to this day don’t) feel entitled to anything I didn’t earn.

      Anyway, please keep reading and feel free to comment anytime. Though this blog started with politics, we have intentionally been taking our ideas and applying them to a more broad array of subjects as well to show that the way we want our politicians to act/behave is no different than how we expect our fellow human beings to act/behave.


  2. That’s not really what the Occupy movement is about. The people you described would be more likely to be found getting drunk and hitting the clubs in the city than attending a protest march. An employee being asked to do a side project after hours might have reason to complain if they weren’t being paid or if they knew it weren’t an opportunity to get their foot in the door for a promotion. If they see others around them being asked to do the same thing and never getting promoted, just increasing productivity so that the company can downsize if need be, then it’s going to lower everyone’s morale. It might not matter in the eyes of a boss because they see it as “well too bad… deal with the low morale or you will be out the door and other people will want to do the job”. Is this the practice of all managers? No. But it does happen with some. It’s abusive. When someone is being asked to do extra projects without getting paid and has no idea if it will work them into a better position, it’s a tale-tale sign that there may be some abuse going on. Employees should ask questions about why they’re doing extra work for the benefit of the company, and if they find it’s for no reason, then they can start looking for other employment that will tell them what that extra work will earn them, either in pay or career advancement. We need hard workers, but we don’t need people encouraged to be suckers. It seems like you would take what you perceive to be a lack of work ethic and replace it with another extreme of wanting young folks to be like Cinderella and clean up the house for no appreciation, only the benefit of others who might be pretty lazy themselves. Cinderella is good in that she’s willing to work hard but she should find another job. People don’t need to develop Stockholm syndrome serving others who don’t appreciate their work. They only keep us hostage if we let them.

  3. Kids today are definitely of the “I deserve everything” mind set and whenever they do poorly in school, it is always my fault. ( I am a teacher and Eric’s cousin ). It is soooo bad, I no longer wish to teach and it was my dream since sixth grade. I am scared for all of our futures. Pray for us all! Not ALL people should be allowed to parent children!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s