Monday, September 1, 2014

Is there shame?

I heard on the radio a while back someone promoting a book about poverty, arguing that the standards that determine the poverty level have to do with whether you have enough to buy potatoes and really should be changed to include more “social” than “survival” criteria.  The author quoted Adam Smith saying that, in his day, a man “would be ashamed to be seen in public without a linen shirt,” but noting that even the Roman emperors would not have had such a thing; and the author went on then to say that our current standards of poverty should ask questions like, “would you be ashamed to be seen in public—“ at which point my attention dissolved in complete wonder on a question that I’ve pondered many times in the past decade or so—IS there even shame anymore?  Is there ANYthing that our culture would actually consider “shameful,” or that would make somebody feel “shamed” or “ashamed?” 

I mean, I expect that individual people might feel ashamed about certain very personal things—many women, for example, are ashamed of various aspects of their bodies (generally, they feel that parts or all of their bodies are “too fat,” and want to hide these things, or their entire bodies, if and when they can), but something external to you, that you could buy and wear or have with you, or not have with you—or even a BEHAVIOR you might engage in, in public—is there anything, really, anymore, in the U.S., that could be said would (or SHOULD) make somebody feel ashamed—or even just EMBARRASSED?

The author on the radio seemed to be implying that people would be ashamed if they didn’t have a cellphone, or some kind of paid TV plan.  I (shamelessly!) don’t have either of those, but I’ll admit I’m on the fringe there.  Would other people, though, really be ASHAMED if they didn’t have a cellphone, or cable (or other expensive) TV?  Or would they just feel deprived of something they wanted; would they just feel ENVIOUS of others who had those things?  Shame is definitely NOT the same thing as envy. . .

I saw a woman last winter while I was out shopping.  She was waiting at a counter to buy something, a fully grown adult woman mind you, wearing footie pyjamas.  Bright royal blue, with bright cutesy designs on them.  Not a snow suit.  Fleece footie pyjamas.  Maybe that was the warmest thing she had to wear on quite a cold day.  But I would have been crippled with embarrassment, had somebody (or the situation) forced me to go out in public and try to function in such a get-up.  She seemed utterly comfortable; just hangin’ out at the counter waiting for her turn.

My question to you, dear reader:  IS there shame in our culture today, or have we killed it?  If we have, is that okay?  Or would it be better for that woman to be embarrassed, out in public in her footie jammies, if that also meant that our culture’s boundaries of acceptable behavior on other fronts could be more tightly drawn than they are today?

IS there shame?  If not, do you miss it?  If so, are you a fan of it?    

Here's another take on the topic of shamelessness:

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