False Arguments in Favor of Shame

It has been argued by those who espouse shame as a virtue that (1) shame is used to correct wrong behavior and (2) that to live without shame gives a person license to do as they please. I believe these are false arguments for the following reasons.

Shame Is Used To Correct Wrong Behavior

Although there may be situations where a person engages in wrong behavior or errs, the correct response for the observer is to offer a correction. There is an assumption made by the person attempting to shame another person into “behaving correctly” that they (the observer) are right and the person “behaving incorrectly” is wrong. This may be the case but it might not be. As such, the person offering the correction must be absolutely sure he is in the right before offering a correction. Regardless, the correction need not be offered with the intent to shame the other person. There are many reasons for this. Perhaps the most important reason is that a person should learn from their mistakes and errors. When one person intends to shame another person it often creates a situation that makes it difficult to learn from mistakes. This is because the shamed person often will avoid the situations resulting in shame to avoid being shamed again and thus eliminate the possibility of learning from their mistake (i.e., approach the situation differently the next time). Further, shame creates resentment which often results in more “wrong behavior” only this time the behavior is passive-aggressive which often cannot be “corrected” because it allows for plausible deniability. Finally, when someone is shamed this will often create the desire to shame others as a means of alleviating the feeling of shame rather than correct their behavior to alleviate the feeling of shame. As such if you feel the need to shame another person to correct their wrong behavior it is important to make sure you are not shaming them because someone else shamed you in a similar way on a previous occasion.

Living Without Shame is License To Do As One Pleases

Although there may be situations where a person living without shame may please to do wrong behavior (as in sociopathology) this is not always the case. There is an arrogant assumption here that, left to their own devices, most people will choose wrongly (except of course those people who espouse shame as a virtue) and therefore cannot be trusted to behave correctly. Obviously, this is not always the case. Certainly, the person espousing shame as a virtue trusts himself to behave rightly some of the time. There is a second assumption here that people do not already “do as they please.” But this is not true. One can only do as they please, whether it be following the dictates of scripture or not every person must (on some level) choose what to believe, think, say or do. It is possible for a person to choose to behave rightly without the need for another person to be at the ready to shame them. For in the final analysis, it is better for a person to act rightly because they want to act rightly of their own volition rather than to be coerced to act rightly under the threat of a possible shaming.

Both examples assume one person is shaming another but this also can apply to self shaming. This is true because it is the purpose of shame to turn the person against himself and thus turn himself into two parties (i.e., the self that shames and the self that receives the shame).

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