Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My pride and shame

I keep trying to get to the bottom of what’s wrong with the world today.

I mean, there are a lot of things right with the world; I’m not saying the whole place is shot. The people, though… there’s something not right with many of them. They’re not bad, mostly, not mean, not terrible people by any means. But fundamentally, I feel divided from a lot of folks, and not just from the younger generations.

And I think I’ve figured out why. A lot of people nowadays have turned pride and shame into bad words. Negative words. And that doesn’t feel right to me.

Pride can be bad, when it rules you, when it causes you to be unwise in the interest of defending it. Yes, it goeth before a fall—I believe that. And shame can be an evil force, especially when used as a tool to keep people in bondage of all sorts. But of themselves, pride and shame are not really bad. They may even be good.

Think about it. Pride has likely saved you from yourself and your own human weakness at some point in your life; it’s certainly saved me. Pride forced me to keep commitments even when I was tired and fed up. Hating that activity or club? Finish the season—you don’t want people to think you’re a quitter. Going home from your job in tears every night? Stick with it; it’ll get easier. (It did.) Pride was what kept me in line many times—who wants to be a laughingstock when you get caught? Taking some pride in myself caused me to consider consequences, to think ahead and weigh options instead of just responding in emotion.

And shame? Oh, shame. It saved me many times—the mere thought of the shame I’d feel if I did or didn’t do something was often sufficient to deter me from stupid decisions. I still made plenty of judgmental blunders, mind you—I’m simply saying that the fear of shame kept me from many more. What motivated me for years to find and keep work, thus supporting myself? Why, the shame I’d feel if I didn’t. What motivated me to try to live within my means? Because I’d be ashamed if I had to admit that I hadn’t done that and had gotten myself into serious trouble. What kept me from acting even more foolish in college than I did? From wearing some of the most horrific fashions over the years? From being even more stupid in relationships than I was? That’s right, shame. I still had my shame; therefore, I had to make decisions that, in theory at least, allowed for its survival.

Nowadays? Pride and shame are curse words. Pride has been lost in a sea of men and women who have no pride in self. There is no pride today in keeping a budget, in saving money for something, in prudence and self-control. Now, you can buy the latest gadget on credit, and then live like a hog and get your stomach stapled when a gimmicky diet doesn’t take care of the problem. The fellow who works hard all his life to make a comfortable living is no longer respected; he’s a fool because he didn’t do it quick and dirty. And shame? What shame? Have you looked at the way people are living? There’s no shame in overspending—just file for bankruptcy. Bought too much house for your money? It’s okay—foreclosures are up anyway, so what’s the big deal? Those people shouldn’t have lent that money anyway, so it’s their fault. They should know not to tempt those poor helpless buyers. Why are so many more twenty-somethings (and even some thirty-somethings) living at home, jobless? “Well, my friends are, too—there aren’t any jobs that pay enough to survive, you know.” That’s true, if survival means existing in the same fashion as people twice your age.

I’m sure you can think of your own examples. We could easily craft an entire series of articles on the plethora of government programs that are exploited daily for easy money. And what frees people to do such a thing? Lack of shame, or lack of pride—or a paucity of both. They sort of go hand in hand, now that I think about it; if someone doesn’t take pride in himself or herself, it’s quite likely that he or she doesn’t have much shame either.

That seems to be at the root of a lot of problems with the world. The very character strengths that built this country are becoming more and more scarce. I shudder at the thought of our future; from what I’ve seen, successful and self-sufficient cultures cannot be constructed on a foundation of laziness, self-indulgence, and impatience. Absence of pride and shame are the cause; the general deterioration you see around you is the effect.

Boy, what a downer this was. Sorry. I’m sounding more and more like an old person every day. I’ll work on a happy springtime post next—promise.


Cari Skuse said...

I agree whole-heartedly! Mark and I talk about this all the time. No one wants to take responsibility for their actions anymore.
You nailed it right on the head.

Facie said...

I am all about personal responsibility, and frankly although I feel bad for people who are stuck with homes they cannot afford, I don't think it is up to the government to baiil them out.

According to those silly mortgage calculators, Bri and I could have afforded a home 2x as much (maybe 3x as much) as what we paid for six years ago. Fortunately we did not fall into that trap, and we bought something well beneath our means. We intend to do that next time as well. Though we will buy a more expensive house this time, it won't be nearly what some calculator thinks we can afford.

Mel said...

Thanks for the support, gals! Glad it's not just me feeling frustration with the system. And yes, Facie, those calculators are pretty darned generous in their suggested figures. Especially since the stupid lending crisis will likely raise everyone's school taxes... and the costs of everything else is going up too, as we all know.

Mel said...

oops, I mean cost (singular). yes, I are a english major.