A Sense of Shame

Edward Sri’s Men, Women and the Mystery of Love, is interesting not simply for what it says about love and intimacy. It helps us to understand that the problem of our hedonistic culture goes beyond immodesty in the sexual realm; it suffers from a lack of modesty in all aspects of life.

Behavior is increasingly crude and attention-seeking, from touchdown dances to loudmouthed newscasters. It used to be that athletes were modest about their victories. They let their accomplishments speak for themselves. Bragging, whether verbal or physical, was considered bad taste. By contrast, the once outlandish antics of televised wrestling has become mainstream—no longer is the action hero Fess Parker as the soft-spoken Davy Crockett. As Sri explains

Shame involves a tendency to conceal something – not just bad things, such as sins, weaknesses and embarrassing moments, but also good things that we want to keep from coming out in the open. Someone who performs a good deed may prefer that his action go unnoticed…. He may feel embarrassed if he receives a public compliment, not because he did something bad but because he doesn’t want to draw attention to his deed.

Mature behavior requires decorum and discernment. We can reveal ourselves (physically or emotionally) only to appropriate people or in appropriate situations. Our lives should not be like tell-all talk shows. The people who indulge in the equivalent of psychological nudity for the sake of gaining an audience may titillate us, but they do not earn our genuine affection or respect.

In our current climate, fashions favor the revealing, the slovenly and the shocking. Even when these factors are not of a sexual nature, like tattooing and body piercing, they are exhibitionist to the point of ugliness and self-mutilation. People have become morbidly desperate for attention.  But conscience is seldom stifled completely. When men and women are immodest they try to find excuses for their behavior, as if tacitly acknowledging that they are acting in bad taste. Or else they act inconsistently, experiencing misgivings even as they try to conform. Sri gives the example of the ubiquitous under-dressed woman who squirms uncomfortably in public and struggles to keep her miniskirt from revealing her obvious deficiency of apparel.

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