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Where is the shame?

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 8:52AM

The last of the cornerstones defining integrity is shame. It is the word , conisting of two characters, for ear and for heart. Shame comes about when we fail to listen to our heart and conscience.

Unfortunately the true meaning of the word shame has been lost in translation. The word ashamed is now used loosely in its place, which connotes a feeling of embarrassment, humiliation, inferiority and inadequacy. For instance, one may be ashamed of one's clothes or one's culinary skills. While guilt is a result of violating the law, shame is the result of violating one’s principles, explained in the preceding seven cornerstones.

Confucius teaches that feeling a sense of shame (as opposed to feeling shameless) keeps our conscience and behavior in check. He affirms that governing by rules and punishments is ineffective as citizens will avoid punishments and will not feel shameful, compared with governing by virtue where citizens are imbued with a sense of righteousness and shame, that even when the rules are out of sight, they will not be contravened.

In Oriental cultural anthropology, shame is not just borne by the individual in question but is shared when one brings shame to one's God, country, parents, siblings, children, spouse, superiors, friends, schools, universities and other associations. For instance, when sportsmen representing their countries or their colleges are caught violating their code of honor (eg. by taking performance enhancing drugs), they bring shame not only to themselves but also to the countries and colleges and affiliations they represent.

In ancient China, the most serious capital punishment for offenses such as treason was the extermination of nine kinships. Entire generations of the family of the offender and kin were executed as the shame was corporate.

The Japanese, as an admission of shame, had a tradition called seppuku or hara-kiri -- ritual suicide by disembowelment. Though seppuku is no longer practiced, it is customary for leaders (e.g. CEOs) who have let down their organizations to publicly apologize and resign from their positions as an act of remorse and admission of shame.

Compare that with the perpetrators who have brought down organizations like Lehman and you can understand why Billy Graham said "self-centered indulgence, pride and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle."