Shame has a purpose


Cho Hyun-ah, daughter of chairman of Korean Air Lines, bows in front of the media outside the offices of the Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board in Seoul

Shame lost favor with the American public at about the same time Reality TV found its footing. Perhaps there is a correlation between the two? I’m not sure but I want to give a holler out to my fellow South Korean brothers and sisters for keeping shame alive in their neck of the woods.

You’ve likely heard the story of Cho Hyun-ah, a senior vice-president at Korean Air, who has made a public apology after delaying a plane leaving New York’s JFK Airport. Seems Cho was upset that her nuts came in a package and not a bowl, meanwhile Delta’s passengers are just grateful they still get tiny packages of nuts and biscotti for free. What is it about being on a plane that makes a person feel like they have to eat? You’d think the way airlines pack people in those seats like sardines in a tin can would discourage all of us from eating anything.

I have thrown some embarrassing fits in my lifetime. I can tell you I am thankful nobody had iPhones around during my fit-throwing days. I have acted the brat in my lifetime and felt ashamed for it later. Unless you are 40 and under, you probably have, too.

I have this totally unscientific and unfounded theory that people in their 30s were raised up in a culture that totally absolved them of shame. They were taught to respond to shame by replying “Uggh. That’s a slug and I don’t have to eat it.” What all this cultural psycho-babble did for kids now in their 30s and under is to teach them that they should never, ever feel shame for anything.

Guilt and shame are archaic words in the Urban Dictionary, which is the only lexicon the 30 and under folks know. They use the fuck word like our parents used the word Swell and we used the word Groovy. We would never have said fuck in front of our parents. My mother would have slapped me into next Sunday had I said such a word around her. But today’s 30-somethings would consider my mother abusive because she whipped me with a switch more than once and did slap me into next Sunday a time or two. I’m not advocating for that parental approach toward discipline, mind you. I raised up four 30-somethings, after all. We were big proponents of time-outs and restriction and writing out sentences like “I will not lie to my mother”.

Shame, used appropriately, is a useful parenting technique. People who feel little or no shame make horrible mates, friends, co-workers. They are self-centered. Everything is about them and their comfort, which explains why Cho pitched a big ole’ hissy fit when mixed nuts were served to her in a package instead of a bowl. She demanded that the steward who served her be immediately removed from his job. She did this by screaming and berating the staff until the pilots returned to JFK and the steward was removed from the flight.

Clearly, Cho got carried away in the moment. It happens to the best of us. But I have to hand it to Cho and her daddy and the South Korean culture that expects that when one misbehaves one makes a public apology.

Not only did Cho go before the cameras with a hang-dog demeanor, literally keeping her head bowed low, Cho’s father,  an airline chairman, said he was embarrassed by his daughter. Cho Yang-ho said his daughter’s behaviour  was “foolish” and that he was sorry that he didn’t raise her better. He also asked the public to forgive him for not having done a better job of raising his daughter up rightly.

What I would give to hear Billy Ray Cyrus and Dina Lohan and Kris Jenner utter those same words. Can you imagine how our culture would change if parents took to the platform and publicly apologized for the misdeeds of their children, even their adult children?

I would have liked to have somebody apologize for Bill Clinton’s philandering ways. Instead, the only person shamed for all that was a young girl exploited by her boss.

I’d like for Ray Rice’s daddy to step up the podium and admit that he failed to raise his boy up rightly, that he’s sorry he didn’t teach Ray to treat women with respect.

I’d like for Jay Z’s mama to admit that she ought to have raised her son up to treat his wife like a lady instead of turning her into a stage-stripper.

I’d like for Kris Jenner to admit that she’s the one responsible for turning her daughters into commodities instead of human beings with sacred souls.

Shame has gotten a bad rap in our culture. Self-help gurus claim that shame has no real value. That shame is nothing more than a sense of unworthiness and that in order to be a better people we need to recognize our own self-worth.

I would suggest that a culture where shame doesn’t exist is a culture that doesn’t know what it means to be an honorable people.

Shame has value. It has purpose.

Most of us would be too ashamed to make a sex video and post it online, for any reason, and most certainly not for fame.

Most of us would be too ashamed to simulate copulation on stage in front of God and everybody.

Thankfully, most of us are still too ashamed to be going off half-cocked in front of our children, our spouses and our co-workers.

Most of us are embarrassed and ashamed when our children act the fool, especially if they are doing so on Reality TV.

It isn’t often that I envy the South Koreans but when it comes to situations like this, I find their behavior completely honorable. Good for Cho and her daddy. What she did was wrong, but the way in which she has conducted herself in light of her wrong-doing has set an example for the world.

Imagine if George W. Bush and Obama were to step forward now and admit that they failed to lead this country in an honorable way? What if they jointly apologized for the misdeeds carried out at Guantanamo? What if they admitted that they were ashamed of the way they had allowed the torture of other human beings, other sacred souls?

Imagine if every member of Congress bowed their heads before the American public, ashamed of their selfish indulgences and apologized for failing their oath of office?

What a difference shame can make.

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


Keanan Brand

about 8 years ago




about 8 years ago

A fantastic post. I don't often ponder shame and how it can be totally contextual, cultural. Great insight here.


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 8 years ago

Thanks for reading, Kendra.


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