Moral and ethical codes instilled in the vast majority of people from a young age exist as the parameters for avoiding the feeling of shame. With the societal trend of cancel culture swirling around our world, it is natural to be afraid of the possibility of being exiled from popular culture and shamed by the masses for what George Orwell detailed in his book ‘1984’ as a “wrong thought.”
In the Bible’s old testament, the book of Genesis tells of Adam and Eve’s removal from the garden after taking from the sacred Tree of Life. Stripped of their immortality and ordered to till the ground from whence they came. This ground was rock hard because God had not yet brought the rain. There was a rule broken and a punishment, and this is the earliest known tale of man’s shame.
The age of technology, or if you would prefer, the age of awareness, has made shame a common emotion. Some might view shamelessness as more common, with applications like OnlyFans allowing women to expose their naked bodies for money in the safety and comfort of their homes. It is worth exploring what society views as condemnable and shameful without debating the meaning of shame. What the various cultures deem shameful is constantly morphing, in some places more slowly than others. Take, for instance, the brutal slaying of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s “Guidance Patrol”, which operates as the country’s religious morality police taskforce. In September 2022, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was in detention for allegedly not wearing her hijab as per government standards. In the Islamic culture, it is shameful and haram (forbidden) for women to display their hair for fear of sexually provoking men, and men cannot wear any garments made entirely of silk. Not because silk is too effeminate or decadent but out of the fear that gold or silk worn in this life will withhold it in the next life.
The intention of this article is not to critique what is right or wrong but to highlight that what is considered shameful is decided by human beings. And if you are religiously inclined, then you would contest this statement and claim that shameful acts are God’s instruction and decision.
Sex can be a source of shame. If a man and a woman have sexual intercourse and the woman feels she has failed to please him because he has not ejaculated, she might be overcome with shame or blame the man and claim the fault rests with him. Similarly, if a man fails to please a woman, he might feel ashamed, even if she does not explicitly tell him that the sex was less pleasing. Across many faiths, same-sex intercourse is considered shameful. Sex is an act of pleasure, an opportunity to grow intimacy, and a healthy way of decreasing stress which carries with it the risk and the burden of shame.
Shame, as an emotion, cripples our ability to be vulnerable, which in turn makes us more divided culturally and insular in our thinking. As I write this, I must mention my own experiences with shame. In the past week, two people I care about have suffered loss and had thoughts of suicide. Shame prevents us from exposing our vulnerability to others, and the cycle of suffering continues. We all have a diminished view of humanity’s ability to empathise. We have this lingering feeling, a fringe awareness that nags at our minds, the notion that our experience surely must have been felt by a few of the billions and billions of other human beings out there. What did these people do with their shame if they could not find the courage to admit the error in their ways? Did they compress it and add to their agony, or did they self-destruct? Humanity requires us to allow for shame, not to end a life for being shameful, but to nourish the soul of life and all subsequent emotions that grow from shame like a mould. We are not yet entirely callous and unfeeling. We must reveal ourselves as fallible beings, and mortals, and no mortals are free from sin or shame.