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article imageOp-Ed: The 'No Shame Culture' of America

By Carol Forsloff     Feb 28, 2009 in Lifestyle
Taking blame and saying “I'm sorry, I did it, I'm to blame” doesn't seem to be the rule for behavior these days. In fact people just shift blame or talk in neutral tones. But where is responsibility in a “no shame” culture?
What does that mean no shame? It means politicians can say “mistakes were made,” thus absolving themselves of responsibility by taking the third person in describing their behavior. It means athletes like Alex Rodriguez in baseball and Rush Limbaugh on the radio can do things that other people cannot but will emulate when challenged. Rodriguez took steroids to get ahead but said it was just something he did because he was young. Of course, in 2003 he was 25 and somewhat past adolescent experiments. Limbaugh took heavy-duty prescription drugs, juggling pills and finding undercover ways to get them, but that was just for a bad back. No shame for behavior that was the antithesis of what they maintained, either through performance, like Rodriguez, or Limbaugh, talking about moral values and homosexuality.
No shame means no limits. It means the notion that there is no such thing as a little murder, like my mother used to tell me, no longer works.
These days folks can lie, cheat, steal, and do almost anything and get away with it, in politics, in government and in personal life. The response “mistakes were made” takes the place of “fessing up.” But my Mom would say about any of these things, “There’s no such thing as a little murder.” I heard that statement many times as a kid when I used a variety of made-up stories to lie to her about why I came home late after school. Mom would catch the lie, and I’d be reminded again about murder. When I asked her what she meant, I was told just to think about it for awhile, along with what I’d done.
I was not only supposed to tell the truth about what I had done but had to pay consequences for it.
What patterns do children have to follow now? Certainly what we want them to be is honest and truthful and willing to do good things for others. That's the kind of standard that makes sense when relative bad hasn't worked very well. We need to have standards where doing bad things is something we take responsibility for doing, pay those consequences, learn from them and set about making things right.
In small towns like Natchitoches, Louisiana “the murder” seems to be gossip. The consequences of gossip, especially the spreading of falsehoods, on a grand scale are demoralization of some citizens, reduced voting and participation, and general apathy. Economic progress is impaired along with social programs and other venues designed to help others, since anyone oriented towards help is then accused of having a devious agenda of some sort by someone. But we don't take responsibility for gossip, even when it hurts ourselves.
On a national scale the problems are magnified by falsehoods. We have war, religious strife, cultural clashes, and the denigration of Constitutional safeguards because our leaders commit the murders of gossip and lies and disguise these as patriotic platitudes, excusing them, when uncovered, as “mistakes were made.” When the “parent” example is set low, the “children” of the nation follow suit; and the frequency of “mistakes were made” used to excuse rather than taking responsibility becomes the order of the day.
Research tells us that lies are accepted as truth if repeated enough. In fact, even when they are retracted later, most people will continue to believe the lie, even when the truth is known. Politicians know that and use it during campaigns. They are familiar with what is known about falsehoods and the effects on beliefs, that by the time the truth comes out many people already believe the lie and will act in accordance with it.
Large numbers of people can be manipulated by a “no shame culture” where historical truths can be twisted, or discarded; and folks will begin to doubt even their most cherished and fundamental beliefs. They can be convinced that a particular group is responsible for their hardships or difficulties. The more alienated or unique the group from the majority, the easier the lie is believed. Thus someone like Hitler could tell the Germans that Jews, a minority in the country, in fact were responsible for economic hardships, and the Germans would then either ignore or aid in the genocide that followed. The lie became their truth and guided the behavior of an entire nation.
The effect of a no shame culture can be devastating on every level, for nations and private individuals.
Defense against it becomes increasingly difficult. This creates personal stress that can lead to serious depression, and even suicide. The young child who is lied about and ridiculed at school, and parents do nothing about it, becomes the desperate, confused adolescent who later takes a gun and kills his classmates, then himself.
So what my Mother used to tell me about telling the truth and taking responsibility for my behavior makes sense when we think about the fix we are in as a nation. Not taking responsibility can seriously hurt or destroy others, because there are no boundaries for our behavior when that occurs. I suggest we recognize our errors for what they are, own up to them, and take responsibility for our actions so our children learn to do the same. And that we ask our leaders to do likewise.
To change our behaviors and attitudes requires a change of heart that we can’t do by ourselves. So what do we need to do it? It means even little things, when we forget to return a book simply saying so, which is easy, when we forget to pay our bills on time, telling the truth as well. If we don't get something done right, being able to say I made a mistake and then learn from it. Those things that build character on an individual level multiplied by many can make a difference. We can then move from a “no shame” culture to one where everyone finds that the recession, the wars, and the problems with climate are things we all contributed to in one way or the other and for which we must then take take responsibility. When we do that we stop blaming the other guy and embrace him consequently as a brother capable of doing good but making mistakes as well. Just like we do.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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