“Shame!”

My students in Malawi used to say this all the time. “Shaaaaame!” A whole chorus of one word, from my 27 children.

It could be used when something bad happened, as in “what a shame!”

Or it could be used when someone had misbehaved, as in “shame on you!”

I keep hearing that we should never be ashamed of ourselves. Why on earth not?

Shouldn’t bullies be ashamed of their actions? Cheaters? Liars?

Sure, don’t wallow in your shortcomings. But in order to learn from your poor choices, you have to know they were the wrong ones. You have to remember them, too. We remember best those events we connect to emotionally. Luckily, there’s an emotional alarm system we come equipped with.

It’s called a sense of shame.

There are lots of things kids and adults shouldn’t be ashamed of. Honest mistakes. Non-willful ignorance. Their bodies. Social class. Choices that were made without their input, on their behalf.

But lets not try and drum all the shame from our lives. Feel bad! Feel bad every time you think about that thing you’ve done. Until the very idea of even considering doing it again makes you blush.

Then have mercy.

Forgive yourself. But don’t forget.

I hurt someone’s feelings earlier today because I said that I thought shame was important. I shouldn’t have said it to her. It wasn’t the right time or the right place, and I should have given more thought to the situation before I spoke. I didn’t. What started as a carelessly tossed-out critique of an aspect of American culture was interpreted as an attack on a personally held ideal.

Of course I’m ashamed. I made somebody feel like crap because I was too lazy to think about the results of my own actions.

I wouldn’t want anyone to expect less of me.

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