Sometimes a question is just a question. When we ask, “Have you no shame?” Perhaps it doesn’t really mean that much. Perhaps it’s just an idiomatic expression. Maybe it doesn’t really imply that we might need a little bit of shame in our lives.
I am beginning to think that the experience of shame can be good for us within limits. I know I’m going against the grain here, so hear me out. You’re very free to disagree, but let’s just try this on for size. And, let’s be honest, I’m no psychologist.
I think we can helpfully draw a distinction between an isolated experience of shame and the experience of living life ashamed. In other words, I can reflect on things that I’ve done that I’m legitimately ashamed of. I was ashamed then, and I’m ashamed now (when I reflect on those things). At the time, and for a long time after, I also felt guilty. However, I don’t live in shame. There are a lot of reasons for that. I have loving, nurturing parents. I’ve done years of therapy. I have great friends. I’m very lucky. But, the point is, I don’t carry that shame around with me day-in and day-out. That isn’t because I’m particularly gifted at not being ashamed or anything like that. It’s part of that luckiness, I think. I’m just trying to illustrate that we can experience shame without living in shame.
Now, I’m not like everyone and everyone is not like me. There are many, many people who do live in shame (see yesterday’s devotional for an example). I believe that is tragic and my heart goes out to you. For the rest of us, though, I suspect moments of shame can be a good thing. They can give us a gut-check when we need it. They can remind us that the world doesn’t revolve around us. They can guide us away from self-destructive patterns of living and towards something a bit healthier (or wiser, or whatever term you want to use that makes sense), perhaps.
Does this mean these “moments” of shame are always good? No. But I think some shame has the capacity to help us form a bit of a conscience. Sometimes it’s helpful to learn about the stuff we want to avoid by feeling things that are uncomfortable and lamentable. A little bit of shame here or there might help.