Shame can happen over one of two things, shame for who we are or shame for what we have done.
When we say that shame is a bad thing, we have to differentiate between those two causes.
Shame is indeed bad , and debilitating, when it is over who we are. It can also often be used as a method of control by others when we are subject to shame over our identity, over “who I am.”
Shame over “what I have done”, however, can be very appropriate and very restorative. Acknowledging something rotten we have done–owning it–can be a step on the pathway to getting right with God.
I aim to never, ever cause a person shame for who she is. But the older I get, the less likely I am to hold back about rotten deeds. This is especially true if I can be fairly sure that there will not be reprisals for calling someone out, although that should not be my primary concern either.
Today, for example, while my husband and I were out walking, we had to cross a major road at the time of the day that buses were picking up high school kids. Three buses were stopped up the road from us, all headed away from us, all with their pick up lights on. Happy to see that I could cross the road without oncoming traffic, I hurried toward it.
But, no! Someone had to bypass the law and come at me, past three stopped schoolbuses. I had to wait for him to get by or I would have been hit myself. Jerk!
I believe I actually had my index finger in the air, pointing at those three stopped buses. I know the man could see my mouth moving, even though he could not hear me through his rolled up window. I didn’t stop yelling at him until he had passed by. Not name-calling. Not condemning who he is. But condemning what he had done. To save a minute, he had run the risk of hitting a student getting on a bus. Or me!
That is appropriate shaming and that would have been appropriate shame, had he felt it. Maybe he did. Maybe the next time he wants to drive past a stopped schoolbus, he will remember the 55-year-old lady pointing at him in his selfishness. That would be good.
After all, I have been told I have gotten very good at delivering “the look.”
May I always deliver it for what someone has done; never for what he is.