What Happened to the Concept of Shame?

Shame seems to be a foreign concept to modern American culture. This was not the case 50 years. At some point, the recognition of shame began to erode. Where did this begin? Was it during the "free love" 60’s? Or perhaps the "shake your groove thing" 70’s? One could reasonably argue that either of those periods in our history marked the genesis of the annihilation of shame. Knowing when it actually began is not as important as understanding why we have gradually banished shame from our society and realizing the consequences of such action. I’m not trying to imply that all shame is good, but it used to serve as a deterrent to minimize such things as out-of-wedlock births, divorce, flaunting of deviant behavior, and the public airing of private matters. Now, these and other blights on society are running rampant.

I think one reason for this lack of shame is that we just don’t think anything could possibly be wrong with actions that don’t "hurt" anyone else. I have mixed feelings about this issue. I don’t think any of that stuff should be illegal and I’m glad the laws against so-called crimes against nature are being gutted. The government has no business in the bedrooms of consenting adults. However, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s necessarily morally right. On the contrary, our modern society as a whole seems to believe it does. Legal is being confused with okay.

Women who have babies out of wedlock proudly announce the "blessed" events to relatives, friends, the community (via newspaper), and sometimes to the world (via television and the internet). Men brag to one another about how many women they’ve slept with. People don’t mind telling everyone how many times they’ve been divorced. Couples glibly announce that they are "shacking up" without the slightest hint of a blush. Homosexuals, bisexuals, transvestites, transsexuals, and other practitioners of aberrant behavior unabashedly flaunt their lifestyles. Those who would dare criticize any of this behavior nowadays are labeled judgmental, hateful, homophobic, or even worse. Sometimes attempts are made to actually censor their points of view.

Another reason for the shrinking shame factor is that we have become overly concerned about everyone’s self-esteem. This is especially true when it comes to children. Somehow we have been led to believe that making a child feel ashamed about anything will damage his or her self-esteem for life. Funny thing, I don’t remember ever being taught as a child that I had any rights but now children are taught from an early age that they have them and that one of them is the right to self-esteem.

As a consequence, children grow up to become adults who don’t believe they need to be ashamed of any aspect of their lives. Then they carry with them throughout their adulthood this idea that self-esteem does not have to be earned. This, of course, is artificial self-esteem that accomplishes nothing but give a person license to do whatever makes him or her feel good. When attempts are made to make people feel ashamed for inappropriate actions or behaviors, they feel violated. In their mind, they see these as hateful attempts to chip away at their self-esteem which, according to the way they were taught, is an inalienable right.

Another reason for the extinction of shame is the total lack of self respect on the part of many adults in our culture. Yes, this is true despite all the emphasis on artificial self-esteem. This explains the "Springerizing" of America in which people are willing to air all kinds of personal dirty laundry on silly talk shows in front of complete strangers. Women go on these shows and don’t mind letting a national audience in on the fact they have had five of their children by five different men and are unsure who fathered the sixth one! Men get on these shows and announce they have possibly given a host of venereal diseases to a host of sexual partners. This trend has spread to talk shows of other formats and even many of the court shows.

This lack of self respect is also manifested in the fact that very few people seem to be embarrassed by TV and radio commercials for Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and similar products. Even many of our "respected" politicians and sports stars are willing to degrade themselves by announcing to the world that they use such products. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the use of these products, but should the whole world know you are using them? Other personal products for men and women are advertised to general audiences without concern that it might embarrass someone. Television and radio are not the only forums for this shameless spilling of personal details. It is now happening in schools, work places, and even churches!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude and I don’t want to roll back the clock 50 years nor do I believe that the lack of the shame can be blamed for all of our societal problems or even most of them. However, I do think a return to just a little old-fashioned shame would cure a multitude of ills.