Do you remember that little thing we used to do to each other when we were kids? We made a motion crossing one index finger with the other and said, “Shame, shame, shame.”
Haven’t seen that done for a long time. Haven’t heard the word “shame” too often lately either. To an old guy who has seen a lot over the years, it seems that our society has lost its sense of shame.
Used to be you could be shamed for any number of inappropriate actions, including using naughty words on the playground. I recall a sixth grade classmate who made it her job to bug me day-in and day-out. On the playground one day she made me so angry I cut loose and called her every vile name I could think of. I was proud of myself for giving her a piece of my mind… until recess ended. As we filed into the building our teacher asked me to stand back and wait. When everyone else had gone to the classroom, my teacher asked if it were true that I had used naughty words on the playground. My antagonist had tattled. Overwhelmed with shame, I admitted that I had spoken nasty words. Then my teacher said something that broke my heart: “Arvid, I expect more of you.” I was ashamed. Devastatingly ashamed. So ashamed I went to my annoying classmate and tearfully apologized. I didn’t use those words again. Well, not for a long time.
I thought about that a few weeks ago when I read about Miley Cyrus’ performance on MTV’s Video Music Awards. The scantily clad former child singing star shook her butt up against a male singer and, tongue hanging out like a tired old cow, rubbed herself with an oversize foam rubber finger. I came of age during the permissive 1960s and never saw that kind of performance. Even the go-go dancers of that era didn’t dance like that. (Yes, I watched a few.)
A couple of years ago my wife and I were shopping at a large store in the suburbs. The 20-something clerk at the checkout counter was quite chesty and was wearing a top so revealing one could view a good 85-90 percent (only an estimate, folks) of her breasts. I am not so old that I did not notice, but I had to agree with my wife who fumed over the over-exposure. This woman appeared to be a nice young gal and may very well have been. A couple of decades ago nice young girls would have been ashamed to expose that much of their body to the public, especially to old men. Not today. Not much shame anymore.
Lest I be accused of picking on young people, I am dumbfounded at the lack of shame among adults like the two bozos who ran for office in New York City recently. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner resigned from the United States House of Representatives in 2011 after it was revealed that he had texted photos of his male appendage to women. You would think he would go home and hide under a rock in shame. Not Mr. Weiner. He continued his sexting activities while running for the office of Mayor of New York City in a recent primary election. While New York voters wisely and emphatically rejected him, nearly 5 percent of voters actually voted for him. When asked by reporters after the election what he would do next, Weiner flashed a single-digit obscene gesture. No shame. No shame at all. (Maybe he needs a new last name.)
Not to be outdone, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer unsuccessfully ran for the office of New York City Comptroller. Back in 2008 Spitzer was forced from the Governor’s office in the aftermath of a prostitution scandal. Apparently, Mr. Spitzer doesn’t know shame either.
Years ago, perhaps, we too often made people feel ashamed for things that were not truly shameful. Moderation was a good thing.
Novelist Louis Kronenberger hit the nail on the head, however, when he wrote, “One of the misfortunes of our time is that in getting rid of false shame we have killed off so much real shame as well.”