Learning from Shame

Abubakar - Marietta, Georgia
Entered on October 17, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

The shrill whistle cut through the autumn air and signaled the end of recess. I slowly walked back to school, inhaling my last few breaths of fresh air. As I strolled into my fourth grade classroom, I instantly noticed that something was amiss. Mr. Christopherson had his hands in his pockets and was pacing back and forth in front of the class. While the other students settled down, he recited a list of four names, solemnly, as if reciting an obituary. When he called my name, I followed my three friends to the front of the room. For the nest five minutes, as we held our breaths, Mr. Christopherson harangued about students who copied, cheated, and plagiarized. Then, he held up four identical “creative” essays for the class to see. We sat down, awfully ashamed.

Over the next six years, I have written countless more essays – all pieces of original work – yet the memory of that particular essay has never left me. Every time I pick up a pen to start drafting a paper, the experience rushes back. I used to wonder why, but now, I know.

I believe in shame. The uncomfortable feeling of guilt that makes you blush, duck, and want to vanish. That emotion that is so easy to incur, and so hard to repress. Yet, that is exactly why I believe in shame.

I believe that life offers crucial lessons to every person – and shame is its way to make us remember. What better way for a mother to ingrain in her son a message about integrity than to shame his act of dishonesty? Ultimately, shame is a positive force, an encouragement to do better, a reason to become more sensitive to others.

I remember once, a destitute, homeless man limped his way to our car. Even before he held out his rough palm at our window – a universal distress signal of need – I watched as my parents tried their best to ignore the eyesore, struggled to continue staring straight ahead. I could not stop thinking about that man for the rest of the day.

Sure, no one likes to be ashamed. But if we continue to hold our heads high, refuse to learn the lessons that shame graciously offers, we cannot grow. I believe that only shame can grant these pills of wisdom to better our lives, pills that not only we, but people all around us, will remember forever.