After what seemed like the full-on advent of Spring we here in the Northeast were slapped hard by the return of frosty air and wind filled with snow. It was hard to take for sure when it hit us squarely across bared faces. I know I should have not fallen for the tease of ease, but I did, rather like an amateur in this region might have made. Quite similarly, I was swept up in the fanfare and glitter on Oscar night, the easy banter of those witty hosts, the hope that this year a more diverse and promising bank of recipients might hold their trophies high over head in pride. And they did. All of that. But the sting of that slap, that one violent recrimination captured by the ever present Eye, stings just as bad as the Arctic blast battering us back inside our homes. Back to wonder, how did we become a nation where shame is no longer felt when it is clearly earned?
Shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. Have you seen it anywhere recently, this shame? Shaming, yes. We fat-shame like nobody’s business here in the USA. The Vaxers shame the anti-vaxers. The Right Wingers shame the Lefties. And vice versa. Shame floats on the air like another layer of smog that we wish we weren’t breathing but accept because we love to drive our big armchair SUV’s from one side of town to the other for any old reason. And that’s just the tip of our shaming. Say something out of line on Facebook and wake up tomorrow to find yourself friendless, jobless, earmarked for dismissal. Forget Twitter. You get ousted in seconds for one half-baked tweet. Yes, we are very good at shaming, at judging, and calling out the behaviors we find insipid or antiquated. But what about the feeling of shame? The internal knowing that we have wronged another? Transgressed a more sacred code of ethics? When will this age old emotion be reinstalled in our elected officials? In those who hold power and sway over our very lives? “When Representative Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, remarked that “anyone who denies the truth of what happened on January 6th ought to be ashamed of themselves,” the Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson countered that she was the one who “should be ashamed” (Rothfeld). Oh, really? And why is that Mr. Carlson? Shouldn’t grown adults know better than dispute through chaos the business of certifying an election, and shouldn’t commit murder in the process of trying to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power? And if they did feel moved to act with such violence and disregard for human life and the continuation of our Democracy, shouldn’t they all be brought to their knees with shame over their own actions? Where have we found ourselves in this mess of a world, that shame, the emotion we all once felt at age five as we stole that extra candy bar or lied about breaking our mother’s favorite vase has vanished into this misty concoction of misinformation we call news?
Is it now tied to the privilege that allows for front row seats and easy payoffs and red carpets and millions handed over to millionaires while we simple people sit in living rooms and try to remember an emotion called shame.
“At every step of his political career, Senator Joe Manchin III has helped a West Virginia power plant that is the sole customer of his private coal business, including by blocking ambitious climate action. A Times investigation has revealed the strands of the unusual relationship between Mr. Manchin and that especially dirty power plant, showing just how entwined they are” (The Daily).
“Advocates have been trying to pass federal anti-lynching legislation for more than a century” (CNN).
“The governors of Arizona and Oklahoma signed legislation targeting transgender youth in their states a day before Transgender Visibility Day” (Daily News).
“During a press conference ahead of signing the law, DeSantis said teaching kindergarten-aged kids that “they can be whatever they want to be” was “inappropriate” for children. He said, “It’s not something that’s appropriate for any place, but especially not in Florida” (NPR).
“A series of text messages released in the past week show how Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court, urged White House officials to push to overturn the result of the 2020 election. There has never been a spouse of a sitting justice who has been as overt a political activist as Ms. Thomas — and that presents a real conundrum for the court” (The Daily).
Why is it these people, those who live on the graces of us who elect them, feel none of it? Where is their shame? “...to reinvent shame, we must first reimagine those norms” (Rothfeld).
Shaming has become our go-to. We slam Mr. Smith with all the righteousness of the Saints, as we do for anyone who we deem as beneath our particular cocktail of virtue. I am shocked by his arrogance, not his singular lapse of civility. But the fact that he did return to his seat and sat there long enough to have realized his own shame, yet showed none of it, that is a disappointment. Instead he said, “In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world” (NME). Really? God wants us to condemn the comedian and use violence to silence them?
But, Will Smith is the least of our worries. In fact, he probably deserves our sympathy because he must be dealing with some severe mental illness. But the real shame falls on those roaming our sacred houses. Those who are spending their time filling their pockets with cash while denying real change to take place. Our planet is awash with denial about just about every fact, from climate change to voter suppression to generations subjugated by systematic racism.
Aren’t we ashamed about our lack of gun control? The number of children living in poverty? That just about everything connected to our automobile industry is killing our air and water and overall health? That our current President is trashed by the very people perpetuating a trumped up lie? The list of shameful acts and misinformation and treachery is a long and tedious one. And yet, shame still alludes the perpetrators.
Can you feel the sting of that slap? Or is our judgement too skewed?