Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Shame on You
Does shame still function as motivation for good behavior?
“If you can’t be a good example, you will just have to be a terrible warning.”
Mary Engelbreit illustrated that quote by picturing a little boy standing in the corner, the object of a discipline intended to produce shame.
Do parents or teachers today make disobedient kids stand in the corner? Do eyes of disapproval wield an invisible rod of correction? Does public reproof cause culprits to feel shame?
I don't think so.
In our culture, as in Jeremiah’s message to a hard-hearted Israel (6:15), people have forgotten how to blush.
Why should we? Tabloids portray celebrity as both wicked and enviable. Newspaper headlines proclaim the best and worst of times, a pocked landscape devoid of leaders who once inspired us.
Banks failing. Job losses. Wall Street piranhas devour the very companies that feed them. Investors get left holding an empty bag.
No longer is the threat from without—bank robbers like Bonnie and Clyde or Jesse James or The Hole in the Wall Gang—but from scavengers within, people devoid of a sense of shame.
And in turn, we have learned to gauge our sins relative to our neighbors'.
“Well, I’m not that bad.”
With the increasing public exposure of skin and secrets––you could get on Oprah––shame hangs in the closet like an old garment, unworn for decades. No Scarlet Letters, thank God, but who wants to look out of style?
Still, can a person be made to feel ashamed?
My fourth-grade teacher, Miss Claussen, taught me a lesson about shame.
When another girl in my class and I fought on the playground, Miss Claussen forced us to face one another, the heavy classroom door with its plate-glass window between us.
“Stand nose-to-nose until one of you apologizes.”
The stiff-necked me—heels dug in to resist both Miss Claussen and my enemy—self-righteousness clung like a scent, my fierce attitude more apparent than the clothes I wore that day. I was prepared to watch the sun go down.
Until she spoke these words: “The bigger person will apologize first.”
I fell over my feet to get around the door to surrender to my enemy. Capitulating, deflating like a balloon, I could hardly get the words out fast enough.
“I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?”
Pride had motivated me to humble myself.
On the long walk home, I remember feeling ashamed.