Can there ever be anything good about shame?
You may have heard it a lot: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” Perhaps you felt a knife in your own soul when a parent, teacher, or coach said it to you. Perhaps you watched a sibling or friend wither under such a putdown. Or perhaps you caught yourself saying it to your own child or someone else close to you.
And the truth of it is, that’s right! Each one of us ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We’ve done things, said things, and failed to take action in ways that have harmed ourselves and others. If we were to feel the full weight of our shame we would be crushed. And some of us are.
Human beings hate shame. Throughout the years people have devised all kinds of ways to deal with shame. Religious penance or the doing of good deeds doesn’t address the inner shame, however, even though they try to. Whole movements have developed over trying to get rid of our shame about things such as sexuality or body weight. (Wasn’t that the underlying issue in the “sexual revolution?”)