Nowadays, one doesn’t hear “I am feeling so ashamed of….” . No, that is not exactly true. I have heard people feeling ashamed of not having the latest car, gadgets, botox treatment or size zero figure. But rarely about their behavior. Two political incidents last week made me think about why people have stopped feeling a sense of shame and how do ethics get impacted due to it.
1. Tamilnadu : A. Raja was released on bail from Tihar jail in May 2012 after fifteen months of imprisonment. He was implicated in the 2G telecom scam along with Kanimozhi. On his exit from prison, his supporters congratulated him as if he was a hero and there were huge celebrations. Then last week, the DMK family members – Stalin, Kanimozhi, Maran courted arrest as part of protest against Jayalalithaa’s government, stating that she was practicing vindictive politics. Even after making headlines for corruption for over a year, among the DMK party key leaders there is no sense of shame, guilt or remorse.
2. Karnataka : Today, Mr. Jagadish Shettar is being appointed as Karnataka Chief Minister and he is replacing Mr. DV Sadananda Gowda. Mr. Gowda in his eleven months tenure made no headlines for the wrong reasons. The reason for his fall is former Chief Minister BSY Reddy. Mr. Reddy was implicated in illegal mining scandal and has a number of corruption charges against him. However, he still retains clout in Karnataka politics, and BJP party leaders to satisfy him replaced Mr. Gowda. Mr. Reddy doesn’t show any hangups that he is forcing changes in the government to retain his power and continues to arm twist BJP.
In both the cases, one thing was clear. Even after imprisonment, these political leaders did not feel a sense of shame. As the cases are still going on, one cannot say they are guilty. However, aren’t human beings supposed to feel ashamed on being implicated in such scandals? Have they lost their sense of ethics to such an extent, that they feel comfortable mocking the judiciary? Hence, I attempted to delve deeper into the psychology of shame and its impact on ethics.
I found a fascinating post titled “Shame as an Ethics Issue” on GoodTherapy.org. Here is an excerpt:
“Shame is defined as a deeply disturbing or painful feeling of guilt, incompetence, indecency, or blame-worthiness. Now considered a primary though under-acknowledged emotion, shame creates self-loathing and/or imploding or exploding rage. Shame is experienced as a global attack on the core Self that sentences the person to life with an irreparable flaw or inadequacy. No wonder we do our utmost to keep actions or experiences that engender shame a secret from others, and often ourselves.”
That is the crux of it. As long as we do not feel ashamed of our actions and behavior, we feel good about ourselves. To feel powerful, a person needs to feel invincible, shame threatens that concept by making a person feel powerless, vulnerable and fearful. Without a sense of shame, a person does not accept that they have done any wrong. Therefore, the mental barrier created as self-defense, stops a person from taking accountability of their actions. Hence, this makes self-correction and ethical behavior impossible.
Brene Brown, a world renowned researcher on shame, says shame causes a fear of disconnection and unworthiness. However, people have misconstrued having a sense of love and belonging. To connect and have self-worth, one has to be be open and vulnerable, live life honestly. But people mistakenly consider vulnerability and weaknesses as synonyms. On the other hand, vulnerability is about courage to be able to live whole-heartedly. Besides vulnerability forcing us to deal with shame, it allows us to live with joy. Worst news is, that if a person numbs oneself to shame, they numb themselves to happiness, because to numb one emotion, one has to become numb to everything. Watch her video below, it is absolutely mind-blowing.
It is horrifying to see a country’s social values deteriorate so rapidly in a span of few years. India has Mahatma Gandhi as father of nation, and present day leaders are becoming prone to illegal and corrupt acts. Leaders need to be chosen for their ethics, values, character and courage. Incorrect choices will lead the society awry. Rather than celebrate unethical behavior with pomp and show, it is better for one’s own happiness and well-being to acknowledge the broken behavior and take corrective measures. Hiding behind walls to project invincibility and perfection harms one own self.