A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

(of a person, action, or situation) Make (someone) feel ashamed: “I shamed him into giving some away”.

noun.  disgrace - dishonour - dishonor - ignominy - opprobriumverb.  disgrace - abash - dishonour - dishonor

Shame is arguably an emotion without which, we are not fully human: to have lived without having felt shame is to be unaware of other people’s opinions & or in extremis, even the possibility of their existing. Humankind being as we are, only a extreme narcissist or an utter fool would think this possible or desirable.

Shame is the emotion which polices the boundaries of acceptable behaviour: Adam and Eve lived without shame until falling prey to the temptation to ignore the rules by which Eden was governed. In a post-theocentric world, the role played by God in this set-up is now filled (rightly or wrongly) by social institutions, most prominently the various branches of what used to be called the Establishment.

The government is looking at measures other than income to measure child poverty. These include, at present: drug/alcohol abuse in parents, worklessness, family stability, unmanageable debt, parental mental health diagnoses, and access to quality education. Measures of income, particularly relative measures are increasingly dismissed as ‘not telling the whole story’.

No-one in their right mind would argue that money tells the whole story of a child’s life chances: absent or indifferent parents, frequent changes in school, and poor role modeling can all have a deleterious effect, regardless of the wealth of a household. But just as more money can ameliorate those effects, having less will surely exacerbate them.

All the factors cited by the government in the person of Iain Duncan Smith will have socially-expressed effects on a child: whether it’s embarrassment at not having the right shoes on PE days & then being told off by a teacher for it, not feeling able to invite a friend round for a meal, being teased for being unwashed, feeling ashamed of Dad turning up reeking of drink on Sports’ Day- all these are things felt by the child. The responsibility lies foursquare with the adults: but the effects are visited upon the person least able to change their material circumstances.

One thing that truly shocked me on becoming a parent is just how strong a child’s desire to ‘fit in’ is, both with their family and with their peer group. There will always be the cheerful, charming eccentrics, gamboling like lambs in the face of others’ disapproval-I count several amongst my dearest friends-but relying on this to dismiss most people’s need to belong is misguided, at best. Children need to feel they belong: shame tells them they don’t.

Shame felt about an action or an attitude that can be redressed or changed is one thing: it has a social utility. But shame about something we cannot control is something else entirely. A child becomes ashamed not of something they have done, but of who they are. You don’t have to think very hard to see where this leads: a child ashamed of themselves is clearly less likely to speak up, to join in, to ask for help, to aspire to better, for fear of inviting further condemnation as being ‘wrong’. Better by far, to keep one’s head down.

This government has repeatedly, to its eternal discredit, encouraged the judging, the shaming, of those who are poor for no other reason than their poverty.  Moreover, the contrasting tendency over the last 30-odd years has been to lionise the rich for no other reason than their wealth. It is not merely in terms of wealth that the top and the bottom have been falling out of  touch.

The factors that are cited as being causes of poverty- alcohol abuse, mental health problems, poor literacy, poor life choices (read any tabloid if you want proof that these things are not the sole preserve of the poor) are primarily manifestations of existing poverty. It is very hard to make good choices when your horizons have been constrained since birth by a want of financial resources.

The government has made great play of its emotional literacy, its wanting to think outside of mere numbers in order to tackle the root causes of child poverty. Fine. Perhaps they might like to ask poor children about how often & how intensely they have felt ashamed of themselves, their families and their lives & use their answers as one of the DWP’s indicators. But I suspect for that to happen, the Cabinet might have to feel some shame themselves, a human gesture of which on the existing evidence, they seem utterly incapable.

  1. economistadentata posted this