[January 22, 2014] Just yesterday a good friend of mine said that the reason so many people act with disrespect (without regard to others), is the lack of “shame” in our society. Leadership today means, he stated, that we must go out of our way to ensure that the guilty are not in any way publically embarrassed (shamed) or made to feel uncomfortable.
“Praise in public, punish in private.” We are told that an important leader technique is to never employ the element of shaming on those who have done wrong. We are told this is out of “respect” for the guilty. Besides, who wants to be uncomfortable when making an error in judgment and everyone is informed?
The book, The Scarlet Letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a romance novel about Hester Prynne who has a child through an adulterous affair. She was found guilty and then punished by being jailed and required to wear a scarlet “A” on her dress as a sign of shame. The “A” being a symbol of the adulterous affair.
This book is important in at least two ways. First, most people today would not consider adultery a sin or something to be ashamed of and most readers do not understand the significance. Second, the book addressed the moral issue in a unique way by having Prynne symbolize the moral struggle in our lives.
My friend’s comment about the lack of shame today, as he describes it, touches on the fundamental issue of how we should address moral wrongs in our society. Leadership is at the forefront is this endeavor, as we are forced to deal with the consequences of evolving moralities.
Read any grocery store magazine to see the sex lives of movie stars (they are quite popular). While our moralities change, shame is also changing. Shame is also being transformed into a form of entertainment.
Leadership means having values, openly expressed. It means that leaders must expose wrongs and this may mean that those wrongs may be made public. We won’t be requiring anyone to wear a scarlet “A” but a little bit of shame will go a way to entice them to avoid repeating bad behavior.