What if shame is necessary?
Hi, Sass! Sorry for entering this conversation late, but I didn’t want to rush through this thought, and so waited until I got home from work. Ever the contrarian, I want to make the case for why I believe that shame is in fact necessary, and even natural, and we avoid it at our peril, both as individuals and as a species.
Let me explain my spiritual understanding of shame. My personal spirituality is pretty eclectic, so to my knowledge none of this is following any one religion or or philosophy, though it draws from many.
OK. In my view, we human beings are not just intelligent apes, globs of flesh and chemicals moving mechanically through life and ceasing to exist at death. We have the spark of divinity in us. God gives a shit about goings on here on Earth because we are kin. God knows that when we are functioning as designed we are capable of amazing feats of love and compassion, of working miracles of mutual care. We are here to be a blessing to each other, the earth, and the universe. Down deep, we know this about ourselves — and about everybody else. All human beings are DESIGNED TO/FOR LOVE. Designed to care. Designed to feel with (empathy) everybody else, to share our struggles and pain, to lift each other up, to work together toward some magnificent shared destiny.
Some people, Donald Trump and his coalescing cabinet as one clear example, fight against this inner knowledge. They don’t want to share. They don’t want to love. They want to bend, break, twist and take. They want to pile up treasure like dragons on their hoard. They want to (and do) treat other human beings like things, like objects that exist for the gratification of their own selfish desires, or for bearing the projected burden of their personal fears.
In choosing to care about themselves alone, and to treat everyone else as either a possession or an obstacle, they not only betray the rest of humanity, they betray their very cosmic design. This thing we call “shame” is the feeling that arises naturally within us when we betray our design. It’s the effect of our selfish choices grinding hard against the selfless love we are meant to share, do and be. It’s a warning signal shouting “Hey! You are off track here! You are hurting other people, damaging yourself, and standing in the way of the BIG PLAN (that magnificent future destiny thing).”
If we are functioning properly, we will feel appropriate shame when we are being assholes and treating other people like things instead of like the precious divine beings that they are. Shame shouts STOP! Check you beliefs and behavior. Change. This is a critical function, and I think a major reason we all find Donald Trump abhorrent is that he at least appears to feel no shame. He should feel shame, appropriate shame, at all the things I don’t need to revisit here. We all know. If Trump was functioning as designed as a human being, he should be on his knees weeping and begging forgiveness right now. The fact that he isn’t, that he is very open about the fact that he has never asked forgiveness for anything ever, sends shivers down all of our working human spines because it reveals to us that he is NOT functioning as designed. He is broken in a way that makes him extremely dangerous to others. And America just made him the most powerful man in the world. Yow.
I think a driving factor behind the safety pin controversy is that a lot of basically good white people caught a glimpse of their own complicity in systemic racism/misogyny/homophobia/Islamophobia reflected in the Trump ascension, and instead of honestly judging themselves in the reflected light of the election results, they grasped at the safety pin idea as a quick and easy defense against shame. When POC pointed out, correctly, that a safety pin does not absolve sin, and besides the whole concept is insulting (“Are we supposed to applaud our “new white saviors?”), basically good white people felt even more appropriate shame. Because of which, many eventually heard what POC were saying, and changed their position on the issue. They changed because they are spiritually healthy human beings who are functioning as designed. They know they are here to make the world better, and when it is made clear to them that they are copping out on that goal, even unconsciously, they change. They do what is right, even if it hurts. Note that the broken human asshole skinhead KKKers out there planned to co-opt the safety pin idea for evil purposes. That’s a really clear distinction showing how appropriate shame empowers good people. Lack of appropriate shame empowers bad people.
religions shame people into following their tenets, ethics and morals shame people into following social codes and policy, and fashion shames people for not adhering to cultural norms.
To the extent that any institution applies shame to enforce conformity, I would say that is inappropriate shame. It is unnatural shame that is being used to manipulate rather than enlighten. No one should ever feel obligated to accept or respond to that kind of false shame. A big FUCK YOU is the most appropriate response.
Appropriate shame arises spontaneously inside us when we catch ourselves treating others in ways we know are beneath both us and them. If we allow that shame to redirect us toward embracing our best selves, we improve ourselves and the world.
That’s my two cents. Sorry for going on at such length!