Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Latham: Put away the shame -- for yourself and others

Feb. 6, 2018 at 9:55 p.m.

We probably should all be embarrassed that we spend so much of our energy these days trying to shame just about everybody we see. It happens to be the way of things, though, that the one most significant act we should feel shame for never seems to reach our consciousness.

But there I go trying to shame people for not being ashamed, showing my own failing. This is one of those vicious cycles you hear so much about.

We have more shame floating around than East Texas has mosquitoes just after a summer dusk. That feeling you get from a mosquito bite is about the same you get from being shamed.

One mosquito bite is no big deal; thousands will lay you low. Shaming is the same way.

The way I figure it, there are only a few things that should cause embarrassment: You should be ashamed of yourself when you spread hate in any form or fashion. You should feel shame when you routinely neglect the needs of your neighbors. You should feel shame when you cheat, lie, steal, kill or otherwise intentionally hurt other human beings.

Not surprisingly, those who spread hate never are ashamed of themselves. Those who lie, cheat, steal or kill feel deep shame and remorse — after they get caught.

That list doesn't touch most of what people feel shame about, and it certainly does not even begin to enumerate all those attributes that would lead others to want you to hang your head low.

So I started making a list of all the things you definitely SHOULD NOT be ashamed about, no matter how many bullies try to convince you otherwise and regardless of what society says in its book of official rules. I'm not sure where you can find the rules but it doesn't matter, they are always changing, anyway. You can start your own list, but these are mine.

You shouldn't be ashamed of:

The color of your skin. You'd think we would be over this by now but, sadly, no. Over the past few years the urge to shame over race has been getting worse.

Where you were born. As if you had a say in the matter.

The language you speak. You didn't have much a say in that, either. If you are an adult, you can decide what you want. For that matter, you don't have to be ashamed of your accent, either.

Who you love. Could there be a more basic human freedom?

The shape and size of your body. For your health, the fewer Xs you have on your clothes the better you will feel, but body size has a lot to do with genetics and circumstances.

The manner in which you worship your God. Whether I or anyone in society agrees doesn't matter — as long as no one is getting hurt. You get to choose your own way, and if I try to convince you of another path I should be respectful of what you believe. Ditto for a choice to worship no god at all.

The amount of your bank balance. It is difficult to find an attribute that says less about who you really are as a person. You also don't have to be ashamed if you have no bank account.

The clothes you wear. This is good for me, personally, because my sense of style, well, often makes no sense at all.

Where you live. Whenever you think of not driving in a certain area because you believe it to be "dangerous," remember children have to live in that same place. It is probably not quite as dangerous as you think.

What you had for dinner. A vegan? Great! A paleo-dieter? Wonderful! Love that sushi? Have at it! If you decide to eat barbecue, however, I'd sure appreciate an invite.

This is only the beginning of what should not shame you. I hope there is more on your list, and mine is definitely a work in progress.

Putting away our shame — and helping others do the same — is near the top of the list of things for which you can honestly be proud.

— Phil Latham is editor emeritus of the News-Journal. His column appears Wednesday. Email



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