What a shame. This emotion seems to be missing in too many people these days

Sherry Kuehl
·3 min read

What happened to shame?

Remember that emotion? It’s when you would literally be sick to your stomach over something you had done or said while seriously wishing you could turn back the hands of time and get a do-over to correct your egregious act.

I think most of us grew up being acquainted with shame. I remember that the absolute worst thing my parents could ever say is that they were ashamed of me. Ugh. It was like a knife to my heart.

And because I’m not a perfect parent, nor do I have perfect kids, I’ve had to drop the shame bomb on my children over the years. It’s horrible to have to do and to see their reactions after I let loose with the “I’m ashamed of you” epithet.

But over the past several years I’ve noticed that shame as a part of a person’s emotional repertoire seems to be vanishing. Even more troubling, people appear to be proud of having no shame and — gulp — wear it like a badge of honor.

This is freaking me out. Can society function without shame? I always thought that not wanting to experience the debilitating feeling of shame based on your actions was, if not the North Star, then at the very least, North Star adjacent in our moral compass.

Nothing highlights the “there’s no shame in not having any shame” trend more for me than politicians. No surprise there, right?

Just look at Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, who was charged with drunk driving and felony fleeing from police as he traveled 90 mph in the wrong direction on Interstate 70 in Topeka last month.

One would think his shame would be so immense that he would be engulfed in a black hole of sickening remorse. The fact that no one was killed because of his alleged behavior is why I believe in miracles.

And to be fair, maybe he is overwhelmed with shame. But one of the byproducts of shame is asking for forgiveness. Granted his legal team might have told him to zip it but still, shame should instill at the very least an apology to the other drivers on the road that night. As I write this there’s been nary a peep from the Kansas senator.

Staying in the shame bunker that is Kansas politics, I’m also curious how elected officials who campaign on keeping public schools strong — as in, they come to my neighborhood and extol the wonders of the Blue Valley schools then vote to gut them by millions of dollars — process that level of disgrace.

Where is the shame of continued and prolific lying to your neighbors? Where is the shame of harming quality education for thousands of kids? Where is the shame in weakening the main attraction and asset of Johnson County? Our public schools are the number one reason people move and stay here because it’s sure not for the amazing mountain views, sandy beaches or the temperate climate.

Please note that I do realize elected officials without shame come from both political parties. I’m not picking on one party over another. I just wonder if surrendering the ability to feel shame is a requirement when a person’s soul is sold to a special interest group or PAC.

I wonder what it’s like not to have shame lodged in your brain, like your mother in your ear telling you to always do the next right thing. Is it liberating or frightening?

I would go with the latter. Shame is the “check engine light” of your emotions. If it comes on you know you’re in trouble and if you flagrantly ignore that light, irreparable harm is probably not just in your future but in other people’s as well.

Reach Sherry Kuehl at snarkyinthesuburbs@gmail.com, on Facebook at Snarky in the Suburbs, on Twitter at @snarkynsuburbs on Instagram @snarky.in.the.suburbs, and snarkyinthesuburbs.com.