Jay Rifenbary

Jay Rifenbary's Blog

Dismissing Shame - A Detriment to Moral Accountability


En route to LaGuardia Airport to pick up my daughter and son-in-law for the holidays, my wife and I stopped at the Modena Travel Plaza between New Paltz and Newburgh on the NYS Thruway. Upon approaching the entrance to the building I noticed two young adults, slovenly dressed, and their dog sitting against the corner of the building holding a sign "Out of Gas". At first there was a sense of sympathy and desire to help, but my intuition kicked in which created doubt in my mind whether this was a genuine call for help. Secondly, their particular approach to solving their supposed predicament appeared odd. Sitting mooching for gas money instead of attempting to acquire it by taking some constructive initiative did not set well with me. Entering the building I inquired with the general store manager if he was aware that there were two young people with their dog soliciting money for gas. His answer surprised me. He stated they were two college students from SUNY New Paltz who occasionally stop by the Plaza begging for money. Dismayed, it was then I informed the Plaza manager, where she proceeded to encounter the students and ask them to leave.

As I was departing the building, the manager informed me that a gentleman had just given them forty dollars. Seeing the two students get up and proceed to their SUV with smirks on their faces I stated to them, they should be ashamed for their behavior and taking advantage of others in such a dishonest and despicable manner. Their response was what I expected, verbal and physical profanity combined with an apathetic, and entitlement based attitude. They proceeded to jump in their gasless vehicle, and drive away proving their need was a hoax and their scam successful. Neither of them had any sense of shame for what they had just done to another human being. This is one example of a disturbing trend toward shamelessness in our society. Consistent social self-centeredness is the major contributor.

Without a sense of shame for doing wrong there is no moral compass to hold individuals or a society accountable for demeaning behavior. It perpetuates an "all about me" attitude that is completely destructive to a healthy and caring society. Shame is defined as, "a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior, a loss of respect or esteem, dishonor." If you have no shame you have no conscious, no understanding of right from wrong, and no sense of what defines you since there are no parameters of behavior to hold yourself accountable. As a result, your life is dictated by selfish desires, rather than understanding a true sense of happiness and self-respect stems from being more selfless than self-centered. A lack of shame is directly related to a lack of self-respect and a weak foundation of personal core values. Without an understanding of what you stand for and believe in there is no sense of self-respect, and therefore no respect for others. Why would one feel any shame for their misbehavior toward others, when there is no shame for misbehavior toward oneself?

There is also a direct correlation between a lack of shame and a lack of personal accountability. Shameless behavior expresses a root dissatisfaction with oneself, which invites excuse making rather than taking personal ownership for ones life. Irish author Jonathan Swift stated, "A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying…that he is wiser today than yesterday." A lack of shame also rests in a lack of humility, which transcends into ones own perceived sense of self-importance. These character traits are always reflective of personal dishonesty and insecurities. Shame is a barometer that measures behavior in relation to the values you hold dear. If honesty is one of your personal values, and you violate honesty without shame, then violating your value of honesty is hypocritical to what you profess you believe in. Each time you repeat this pattern of behavior you become less in alignment with the person you know you should be. The result is unhappiness and discontentment because you are not in congruence with yourself. As the French philosopher Blaise Pascal stated, "The only shame is to have none."

Friday, August 07, 2020

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