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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Shame Is Your Friend

When I was growing up, the emerging social narrative was that shame was bad.  Sure, shame has never really been all that good, but what the 1960s brought forth was the notion that the whole idea of shame should be eliminated.
Our modern age has come to where it is now by eliminating shame.  Sure, we feel shame all the time, but our society does not really impose it, particularly on our personal behavior.
For this reason, we have lost many of the guardrails that we once depended on to control our behavior when our own will alone was not sufficient to curtail our impulses.  How many times have we stopped doing something simply because we would feel ashamed for having to explain our actions to a loved one, or even a father confessor?
Shame can stop us from doing things without actually having to wear its horrid mantle. 
Adam and Eve did not have the prior experience of shame, which might have prevented them from eating the fruit, but then again, you can't get to that place of understanding shame unless you first taste it.  Our negative experiences growing up are supposed to shame us in small ways so that we are ready to avoid the larger shames.
But now, we are told there is no shame, and so people act out in ways that are simply stupid.  Five decades ago, a 'gangster' wore a fancy suit and tried to look 'respectable' while knowing that his ways of getting money were shameful.  Now, gang members dress like clowns, and celebrate their ignorance in music that kids gobble up with abandon.
Our children have lost their shame, and take nude pictures of themselves to send to their 'mates.'  Only later does the innate sense of shame come up, even after the 'liberated society' has told them that all sexual impulses must be immediately acted on.  As a result, we have kids that are emotional wrecks, and need marijuana and alcohol to cope.
Hence we have the 'party culture' of colleges and the drum-beat of marijuana legalization.  Being intoxicated has also lost its shame, and with it the safeguards against addiction have been ripped away.  Let's not forget something: alcoholism and the social acceptability of public drunkenness are linked.  Countries with tolerance for public intoxication tend to have more heavy drinkers, and thus more alcoholics.
But, the loss of shame also drives man to countless other sins.
The point I am driving at is that we all need to regrow a sense of shame.  The survival of society, and our own sanity, depends upon our ability to readily acknowledge that our actions are or are not shameful, and then act accordingly.  Because, I will tell you this: no amount of social pep talks about being 'freed' from the constraints of traditional morality is enough to overcome the inner voice that tells us that what we are doing is wrong.
Right and wrong, good and evil... these are things deeply coded within our spirit.
Sure, you can come up with some tribe in the middle of jungle-nowhere that does all the things you want to do... but are you will to go live in their thatched-hut village to see how they deal with that reality?  No, you won't because you know that you really don't want the whole context.
All societies have their shortcomings, and thus their own shames that the 'medicate' by compensating in some other way.  Our temptation is to avoid change by compensating somehow, usually by overacting in some other 'virtue.'
Sobriety is about coming to grips with our own shame, not trying to deny it.  We all have things to be ashamed of, and what we ought to do is bear those shames with humility rather than indulging our egos by denying the shame is there.
Once we embrace our shame, then we are no longer dominated by it.  We know that we are not perfect and have failed to live up to what is good.  When it is no longer denied, then we can accept the price of our shame and move forward from it.  We can repent, and then begin to be healed.
It is not an overnight process, but as with most shames, the power of it wears off over time.  For example, how many people will look at an old prisoner serving a sentence for a murder in his youth and say, "Well, he has done his time."  When the blood was still wet, you would not have had such sentiments.  You certainly would not think this way if he continued to murder and assault people in prison.  But, if he repented, you be more likely to forgive him his shameful state of being a murderer.  The label does not go away, but the path of repentance can change weight of it.
So for us all, our shame becomes more bearable with time and good conduct.  It cannot be forgotten, nor should it.  Our past shames keep us from acquiring new ones like a Xenophora snail:

Avoid new shames, but more especially realize that the shames you have will help you remain honest and humble before God and your fellow man.

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