A sense of shame PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 06 April 2018 12:03

By Remedios F. Marmole­ño

In a Good Friday service in Rome Pope Francis said that we should “feel shame for having lost a sense of shame”. The last part of the  remark can be said  in Tagalog as “nawalan na tayo  ng hiya”.

“Shame”  is not meant here in the sense of being shy to perform in front of  an audience,  which we normally mean  when we say “Nahihiya ako”. In the context of the Pope’s statement,  shame refers to a feeling of discomfort or  distress when we realize we have done something wrong, a feeling of guilt  when we realize we have acted contrary to our group’s standards or our own standards.

If we  presuppose that we still have, as a people, a commonly  understood norm of conduct in how we relate to each other, then we will  feel shame when we realize that we have gone against the norm. What does it mean then when the Pope says  that we have lost the “sense of shame”?

One possibility is that  we have become highly individualistic in  our consciousness of how we are expected to behave in our society. We tend to act according to our wishes and  disregard  what others may say of our actions. While there is some value in steering by our own star we have to realize that we are always a member of a group – family, or work group or the community we live in. And what these  groups think of our actions is always a deterrent to being completely independent of their expectations as to our behavior. Thus this can be a brake on any tendency to act rashly and bring us to shame.

Another possibility is that our society has become rather heterogenous in our behavioral norms. For instance, do millennials have their own standards which are significantly different from that of other groups? Do ethnic groups differ significantly in their expectations of what moral conduct is all about? This aspect is what is driving serious resistance to immigration in Europe and North America.

Let us consider what is happening in our own country.  When we carefully consider reports in the media of how some people, most often those in public service, have conducted themselves in their  personal  or in their official lives, we cannot honestly say that the Pope exaggerates.

When people supposedly holding high positions in our society are openly carrying on in ways that in the past were done in secret, we wonder if indeed they have lost their sense of shame. Extra marital affairs. Life styles way beyond  what their salaries can support. Being caught in flagrant lies.

And the public does not react negatively either.  We are complicit in our silence.