No, I am not saying that shame is a good thing when it is used to belittle and berate another person, trying to make that person feel as small as possible. That is called bullying. I am talking about the interior mea culpa for my own wrongdoing, the kind of shame and embarrassment that calls for the old, "I'm sorry,"
or the new, "My bad."
I remember as a child, when Daddy's voice rang out, "Elizabeth Anne,"
I knew I was being summoned for a reckoning. The immediate feelings of shame, regret and embarrassment, on top of the gut-level feeling that I had disappointed my daddy, was enough for me to correct course. I knew what the rules were. Most of the time, I knew when I had crossed the line. Still, the awareness of my wrongdoing and of my shame for my behavior helped shape me into a better person.
Robert Fulghum wrote a little wisdom essay a long time ago called, "All I ever really needed to know I learned in kindergarten."
He writes, "Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt someone."
It seems we are careening into a mess from which we may never recover just because we have no shame for the corruption, the cruelty, and the carelessness that mark our days.
There was a time, in the not so distant past, when an Al Franken and a Garrison Keillor, without belligerence, left their respective vocations in the face of accusations in the MeToo movement. Fast forward six years. George Santos, Donald Trump and now Bob Menendez who are accused and under indictment not only flout their legal trouble, they stand naked before us in a shame they do not even feel.
Clarence Thomas is another one who seems indignant that he is being questioned about his dubious ethical practices. He feels no shame or humiliation in all that is coming to light. We should have believed Anita Hill; Thomas should never have been seated on the court.
Shamelessness is no longer a one-off. It is mainstreamed in lots of hallowed halls in our nation. Sadly, many of the arbiters of the pain and misery being infused in daily discourse happen to be very wealthy. Rupert Murdock, Elon Musk and others in the billionaire's class seem to think their money equals power, and misappropriated power yields harm.
The great silent majority of us should find a giant megaphone and yell, "Stop It!"
Shamelessness and wanton disregard of law coat the slippery slope at the bottom of which sit violence and anarchy. Without accountability and the systems of justice and law that have protected our union for over two hundred years, we are doomed to autocracy and dictator rule. We are destined to white nationalist heterosexual rule that wipes out the rights of the rest of us.
General Mike Milley has a lot of stuff right. He may have his own problems, but in Jeff Goldberg's recent article in the Atlantic, he nailed the character of Donald Trump whose disregard of the Constitution is a clear and present danger. Mr. Trump missed the lessons he should have learned in kindergarten, like "the Golden Rule, love, basic sanitation, ecology, politics and sane living,"
that Fulghum talks about. Repentance, where art thou hiding?
Robert Menendez needs to resign. George Santos needs to resign. Clarence Thomas needs to recuse, then resign. Donald Trump needs to withdraw to his cheeseburgers and diet cokes. People who can't own up to the errors of their own ways need to sit on the back row, not on the front seat. They are playing us for fools. Only a world off kilter would continue to reward the shameless bullies who live among us. Robert Fulghum, we need to read your words over and over.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and hosts the website: avirtualchurch.com. She welcomes comments at email@example.com.