Shame, the barrier between decency and depravity, is MIA in the USA

Shelly came over the other day and confided to me sheepishly that she had shamed her little girl, Cindy.

That morning, they had pulled into the Starbucks to order breakfast. Twice the eight-year-old refused to order, “Not hungry.”

Then, on the way to brother’s ball game, the little girl asked, “May I have some of your sandwich, Mommy?” to which Shelly replied, “Of course.”


Before she knew it, a sated Cindy gazed back in the rear-view mirror, having devoured all of the breakfast sandwich! But that meant no food for Mommy, for the duration of the Saturday morning little league game in the hot sun.

“Cindy, I can’t believe you just ate the whole thing! You knew it wasn’t for you. You knew I was only sharing it with you! You said you didn’t want one. Why wouldn’t you leave some for it for me? It was my sandwich!”

By the time Shelly pulled into my driveway, she was distraught, and not just because she was on a sugar low. She felt deeply conflicted for humiliating her daughter to make her point.

“Of course you should shame your children,” I replied. “That is your job, as a responsible parent. Shame is one of our most useful tools! Shame is the barrier between decency and depravity in a moral society.”

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they “were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:25 ESV) Then they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

From their (original) sin, they discovered shame; they clothed themselves – why? Because they felt ashamed, and that changed the way they looked. They blushed, and probably sweat, too.

They fashioned the grape leaves to cover not their nakedness, but their shame. After God received their confessions, he created garments for them and sent them (in shame) from the garden.

Merriam-Webster defines shame as “a painful emotion caused by the consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” It’s also the susceptibility to having such an emotion. Shameless is the inability to feel disgrace, which describes many of our politicians these days.

President Obama was not ashamed of having lied to the American people about their options under ObamaCare.

His shameless “apology” stated, “I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me.

He was not ashamed about the Benghazi deaths, which occurred on his ‘watch’, though, in truth, we don’t know exactly what he was doing while the ambassador and three others burned. He did imply he was ashamed by a video he had no role in making.

Clearly, he misunderstands the word. He cannot be shamed into action, though people and pundits everywhere are calling for some answer to the Islamic State’s genocide, Putin’s military maneuvers, and the shameful situation at our southern border. Unashamed, he continues his vacation.

But he has also called for air strikes and humanitarian aid in Iraq, citing, in a New York Times interview, his lack of follow up in Libya as a lesson-learned.

So that’s a lesson that I now apply every time I ask the question, ‘Should we intervene militarily?’” Mr. Obama said. “Do we have an answer the day after?” It’s just great that he’s getting on-the-job training, but notice that his hubris prevents a more open nod to the Bush doctrine of nation-building -- which he destroyed, in his haste to withdraw from Iraq, but now clearly espouses! And witness, no apology to all the Christians who are being starved or beheaded. Shameful.

Our societal break with shame traces most clearly to the Clinton White House.

Before that, we had Watergate, a spying and lying tale resulting in the resignation of a president, Nixon, who valued the office of the presidency too much to bring the disgrace of impeachment upon it.

Not so for Bill Clinton, who was not at all ashamed of his deplorable seduction of a young woman less than half his age.

The progressive women’s movement lifted no voice against his predatory behavior because they supported him politically. Shameful.

Then Clinton unabashedly lied directly to the American Public on TV. Impeachment, though inevitable, was unsuccessful, because the Senate was unwilling to shame the man they adored, despite his transgressions. Now he is one of the highest paid speakers in the country. Shameless.

After years of claiming the troop withdrawal from Iraq as his great achievement, because it can now be seen as disastrous, Obama just changed his narrative and blamed Bush for it. “… As if this was my decision.”

Immediately following that he blamed President Maliki as well. His blatant rejection of culpability speaks not to his sense of shame but lack thereof.

That Clinton’s and also Obama’s actions have demanded impeachment is clear, except that We the People have lost our ability to shame. We shun the very idea of it, perhaps because we all feel our own so vividly.

Judge not, that you be not judged. 2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Mat 7:1-2 ESV)

Are we seeking so strongly not to be judged, that we refuse to judge others?

Recently, we witnessed Rob Ford’s brother defend the Toronto mayor’s right to retain his seat despite his excessive illegal drug use, by pointing his finger at the parliament in Canada and accusing them of smoking pot. But is this redistribution of shame? Does our own shame mean we lose the right to shame others? In that case, there is no more right and wrong.

It’s asymmetrical warfare, in that shame is used only on those who can feel it – but for the others, well, there is no amount of scorn they cannot withstand. They simply turn the finger back on those who would correct them. “What difference, at this point, does it make?” (Read, “You will not shame me!”) And so good people are disarmed of our ability to defend what’s right and condemn what’s deplorable.

Homer Simpson said, “It takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen.”

That’s even truer of shame. Former New York Congressman Anthony Wiener ought to be ashamed, but no. As a forgiving society, we’ve given him a (snickering) pass – though he, thankfully, didn’t get reelected. Yes, you shouldn’t tweet your private parts, but haven’t we all done something regrettable?

But (luckily) tweeting inappropriate photos isn’t the same thing as taking some post-it notes from work. So good people ought not to allow themselves to be shamed into submission, just because they aren’t perfect. If it’s wrong, speak up, stand up, and if you are also guilty (of something, aren’t we all?), handle that on your own time. Don’t be a hypocrite, but don’t be a cowardly doormat, either. Or worse, a sycophant, supportive of bad behavior for other rewards.

It is incumbent on a just society to shame those deserving of it. It is simple self-protection. We no longer have pillories, and the mainstream press clearly has no concept (witness the terrorist-graced Rolling Stone magazine), but therefore the moral society must make up the difference.

Shame on them if they don’t.