Upton: Shame can become very useful

Upton: Shame can become very useful

February 4th, 2010 by Tabi Upton in Health

I was wondering the other day, "Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned shame?" Not the kind that makes a person feel worthless or defective, but the sort of shame that regulates one's behavior.

One source says that "to 'have shame' means to maintain a sense of restraint against offending others, while to 'have no shame' is to behave without such restraint."

We live in an age, a society, and among a generation of people, who seem to be losing all sense of shame. We see it in their choices of clothing, music lyrics, media antics, and in the messages sent through the cyber world.

Not only that, intemperance its emerging in how we settle disputes on the school yards, how we address authority figures or strangers, and in who ends up caring for children.

Anything and everything just doesn't and shouldn't go. There is a standard out there that humans should try to meet. It means that if certain rules are grossly violated, you should feel, well ... ashamed of yourself for it.

I'm not suggesting we all dress or act in some sort of robotic fashion. But I'm glad a mature gentleman on "American Idol" came up with the song, "Pants on the Ground" to express his frustration with seeing so many adolescent boys going about with sagging jeans. He even goes as far as to chant, "You're lookin' like a fool with your pants on the ground!" I think somebody had to say it.

On the same note, a friend of mine tried to discuss his nephew's problematic and extra low-riding jeans with him, asking him how he felt about how others may view him. The nephew said others' thoughts about him did not bother him at all, and he felt no shame about it. My friend was incredulous. "What do you do with a child that feels no shame?"

I've seen children caught in some pretty compromising situations by their own parents. The acts themselves weren't nearly as surprising as their calm, collected responses to being found out. They weren't embarrassed. They didn't care much that they'd disappointed those who loved them. They were sometimes indignant about receiving consequences. They had no idea that they had even violated a behavioral standard. They felt that they had simply made a choice others didn't always agree with.

It's true, we can't live our lives by the mantra, "What will people think?" But we surely also can't swing so far the other way that we behave as if we're living on a private island that follows us wherever we go either.

Somehow, we must discuss limits, appropriateness, general social norms, thoughtfulness, civility, and even modesty with our children.

Our culture is highly individualistic, and prides itself on self-expression. This is a wonderful thing, but let's not forget that sometimes, it's OK to hold something back for the sake of another. To consider time, place, and person. To monitor our impulses and think about why we want to do what we really want to do at that moment. It's why grandma used to say, "Shame on you!" and sometimes, we needed to hear it.

Tabi Upton, MA-lpc is a counselor at Richmonth/CBI Counseling Center. E-mail her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net.