“Let me tell you one problem that we have in African politics and Zambian politics. We have no sense of public shame. We are in politics but without any sense of public shame! If anything, we even justify our iniquities and sometimes they are even tolerated by the appointing authority…,” says Wynter Kabimba.
Shame is a painful, social emotion that can be seen as resulting from comparison of the self’s action with the self’s standards but which may equally stem from comparison of the self’s state of being with the ideal social context’s standard. Thus, shame may stem from volitional action or simply self-regard; no action by the shamed being is required: simply existing is enough. Both the comparison and standards are enabled by socialisation. Though usually considered an emotion, shame may also variously be considered an affect, cognition, state, or condition.
The roots of the word shame are thought to derive from an older word meaning “to cover”; as such, covering oneself, literally or figuratively, is a natural expression of shame.
Nineteenth-century scientist Charles Darwin, in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, described shame effect as consisting of blushing, confusion of mind, downward cast eyes, slack posture, and lowered head, and he noted observations of shame effect in human populations worldwide. He also noted the sense of warmth or heat – associated with the vasodilation of the face and skin – occurring in intense shame. Shame can also result in crying.
A sense of shame is the feeling known as guilt but consciousness or awareness of shame as a state or condition defines core or toxic shame. The key emotion in all forms of shame is contempt.
Two realms in which shame is expressed are the consciousness of self as bad and self as inadequate. People employ negative coping responses to counter deep rooted, associated sense of shameworthiness. The shame cognition may occur as a result of the experience of shame effect or, more generally, in any situation of embarrassment, dishonour, disgrace, inadequacy, humiliation, or chagrin.
A state of shame is assigned internally from being a victim of environment where the sense of self is stigmatised like being denigrated by caregivers, overtly rejected by parents in favour of siblings’ needs, and so on and so forth, and the same is assigned externally, by others, regardless of one’s own experience or awareness.
To shame generally means to actively assign or communicate a state of shame to another. Behaviours designed to uncover or expose others are sometimes used for this purpose, as are utterances like “Shame!” or “Shame on you!” Finally, to have shame means to maintain a sense of restraint against offending others – as with modesty, humility, and deference – while to have no shame is to behave without such restraint, as with excessive pride or hubris.
Why are so many of our politicians shameless? Why do they lack a sense of shame? They can lie so easily with very straight faces. They can shamelessly lie, tell lies about others, malign others with so much ‘conviction’ in the tone of their voices and posture. Anyway, for some, it goes back to how they were raised. Their brain just can’t get there, they don’t see empathy. Most have some level, but for some, they just don’t have enough or any at all. We have heard it can never change, they don’t see what they do as wrong.
Emotions such as shame and guilt are a direct function of recognising and taking responsibility for one’s actions, speech and behaviour. When you think about it, if nothing is ever one’s fault, if one blames others and is repeatedly demonstrating failure to assume responsibility, why would that person ever feel guilt, remorse or shame?
Shameless politicians seem to blame anyone and everyone else for everything. If they believe nothing is ever their fault, why would they ever feel ashamed about anything? If nothing is ever their fault, nothing will ever trigger remorse or guilt in them.
We are yet to see some of these very big-mouthed politicians of ours who are every day attacking others, criticising others, accusing others of all sorts of things take any responsibility for anything.
In short, nothing, in their minds, is their fault, therefore no reason to feel guilty, no reason to feel ashamed.
Shame and embarrassment are essentially social constructs. We talk a lot about shaming someone but we talk less about being embarrassed. What this means, socially, is that one, the embarrassment is a self-assessed feeling while shame is a function of folkways.
Shame does, essentially, not need a current social discovery. We feel shamed over having done, thought, or supported something that if it would become public knowledge would cause us social shunning or, at the best, social disapproval. Shame is a form of anxiety about the possible discovery of an act or situation. We are shaming someone into acting by increasing this anxiety.
Embarrassment is an internal assessment about how social constructs react to a given, current, situation, not a hypothetical ones. Say you’re farting in public. Knowledge of farting in public being less than socially accepted – mores and folkways – now does not trigger anxiety about being discovered, unless you blame it on someone else, but anxiety about the immediate reaction of your peers. Leaving the house with a big hole in your pants – you might feel shame as long as you’re the only person you suspect of knowing about it, once someone else sees the hole, your anxiety about their possible discovery and reaction becomes an anxiety about their reaction and assessment alone.