SHAME: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
New Age psychology names shame as a negative emotion and motivational speakers gather crowds at high prices to excuse them from it. And indeed, there are many kinds of imposed shame that cripple us and keep us from moving forward, particularly when it comes from a place of privilege, people trying to make us feel ashamed for being gay or poor or bad in math. But genuine shame from within, a sense that we made the wrong choice, that “we blew it,” that is was “our bad,” followed by an apology to those we hurt and to our own better selves—that kind of shame indeed has its place in the ecology of human emotion.
Just the right amount of shame keeps us honest, keeps us humble, keeps us human. “Humiliation” is the doorway to an authentic humility, an awareness that we are less than perfect and are bound to make mistakes without end. The acceptance of our own vulnerability keeps our hearts open and to feel the pain when we transgress is what allows them to stay honestly open.
But what can we say of people who feel no shame? Of the psychopathic serial killer or the Ponzi scheme Wall Streeter or the abusive spouse-beater? Well, we’re fascinated by them and they make good characters in movies. But none of us wants them as a friend or neighbor or even golf problem.
And what if two people like that incapable of shame are the President of the United States and the Majority Leader of the Senate? Welcome to the Twilight Zone of American democracy.
I was open to surprise, a tiny sliver of possibility that those last two above would do the right thing—or at least wait a respectable amount of time. But no, while the body was still warm, they were already making their plans to use the occasion for their own political gains. Which means, not attending to the common good of the people they are elected to represent—which means all citizens—but carrying on their relentless and shameless campaign of grabbing more than their share of privilege and the world’s goods. Without a moment of respect for the death of one who will be in our history’s Supreme Court of courageous, moral, dedicated, intelligent and good-hearted heroines and heroes—I speak, of course, of Ruth Bader-Ginsburg— they predictably forged ahead with their plans.
What those two monsters, those giants with no hearts in their bodies (read that fairy tale), the Party that supports them, the voters that chose them (and unbelievably, are poised to choose them again) have done makes me ashamed to be an American citizen. Makes me ashamed of being a member of the human species. The utter lack of awareness that it might be wrong to meet the occasion of not only the death of a fellow human being with such crass behavior, but someone who served the country for so many years (until her dying day!) and championed the justice the country is supposed to stand for, should be the occasion for their shame, but it is a shame they are incapable of feeling. And so we have to carry the shame of putting such crippled, heartless people in positions of power.
And I do.
R.I.P., R.B.G. We will work tirelessly on your behalf.