Shame on Me

I’ve done a lot of things that I’m not proud of. And, like anyone else, I want people to understand why I did those things. Because I want people to understand that I’m not psychotic or cruel, I just make bad decisions sometimes.

And there’s nothing wrong with providing context for our bad decisions and our bad behaviour. The problem is when that context becomes excuse, which prevents us from feeling the shame that is our due.

The first problem with this is that sometimes we do such a good job of explaining our actions, that we end up justifying them to the point that we feel justified persisting in our bad behaviour. It feels a bit like a cycle: I know that I’m treating this person badly and it’s inappropriate, but I only did those things because they treated me badly first, and they never apologized for the way they treated me, and they owe me an apology, so I’m going to keep treating them badly so that they won’t get away with having treated me so badly.

The second problem is that after having behaved badly for a while, our character becomes increasingly defined by that bad behaviour. And to admit that the behaviour is bad feels increasingly like admitting that we are bad. So we become increasingly invested in our bad behaviour. What had been behaviour that was justified becomes behaviour that is excusable and, eventually, behaviour that is avant guard or daring or radically honest or some other bullshit. Doling out our own cheap form of vigilante justice, we can make ourselves the heroes instead of admitting that we might be the villains.

One of the major impetuses for this phenomenon is that there is very little social capital in apologizing. Just because you apologize doesn’t mean you get to keep your job and it doesn’t mean that people will forgive you and it doesn’t mean that you are redeemed. By contrast, there appears to be far more social capital in Offering No Apologies. It offers the chance to become a folk hero to some part of the population who want to excuse some comparable behaviour. 

But what does a society of people who feel no shame look like? What are our prospects for personal and societal advancement when we lose the ability to distinguish not only right from wrong but better from worse? What is to come of us if we valorize our worst impulses?

Posted in: Progress

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2 thoughts on “Shame on Me Leave a comment

  1. Hi,

    You seem to be describing acute complacency…Are we to take it then that we should draw more defined lines in the sand between good and bad?

    Apologizing has to be the first act of contrition. There needs to be atonement for there to be justice. And true, the consequences of our actions will not be wiped clean by an apology, but until we are prepared to demonstrate that we acknowledge our wrongdoing, mostly by accepting our punishment – loss of job, exile…, and also showing we are prepared to do the work to make amends then we accentuate and perpetuate for others the idea or feeling of anarchy – that anything goes.

    This is like having opinions and believing they are the same as facts. If everyone is entitled to an opinion and opinions are going to be valued, and by that I mean defended on the same basis as facts – then we have no ground for distinction between truth and gibberish.

    At this point bad and good becomes relative. It must. And if we want to counter this we need to be able to distinguish between good and bad. This means there needs to be rewards and punishments because both good and bad cannot be treated the same or you are back to square one.

    A line must be drawn in the sand, beyond which bad is absolute…I guess if good is absolute than this would be its boundary…This line helpful to be able to gauge how far one has strayed past the line(s) if only to measure how far one has to work to get closer to it.

    I think it’s important to not confuse good with innocence or to equate innocence with absolute good. Why bother trying to not be bad if you can never hope to be good because you have crossed the line of innocence?

    And one final comment, I think I need a concept of averaging between good and bad, not in the sense that I can simply make up for bad acts with good ones or allow myself bad acts because I have stored up enough goods one. Each act good or bad gets recorded (from The Roots) and each stands on its own merit. Each bad act needs its own rectification.

    But on the whole, if I am to find motivation for continuing to do good acts, I need to know that although I have done badly, my goodliness counts.

    Not a very coherent argument, Just some thoughtful reactions!

    Thanks for the post!


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