This article explores the idea of shame and how it can be healthy or unhealthy. We attempt to show that shame due to Laziness (and other moral failures) is normal, healthy and, in some sense, even good. Alternatively, shame due to someone else’s misdeed is unhealthy and should be rejected. A danger exists in which these two senses of shame can be confused. This mix-up can form a partly intentional, but partly unintentional support system that perpetuates the unhealthy and unhappy lifestyle of Laziness.
Definitions and Examples: Healthy and Unhealthy Shame
Healthy shame occurs when a person commits a moral violation. In this case, the normal, healthy inner feeling is shame. For example, when a person vandalizes someone else’s property, then, to the extent that the vandal still has a functioning conscience, the normal, inner message from their conscience will be: “I am ashamed of myself.”
Alternatively, unhealthy shame sometimes occurs when a person has a family member or friend who commits a crime or other misdeed. In this case, many people feel a sense of shared or “vicarious” shame on behalf of their friend or family member. It is as if the guilt is spread around to others, instead of staying where it belongs, with the person who actually committed the misdeed. This often happens with children, as in the case where a child feels shame over the moral failings of their parents. Psychologists have known for a long time that this type of shame is unhealthy and debilitating. So, in this sense of the word “shame”, we have all been rightly reminded to disregard that feeling when it creeps into our minds. For example, you might have seen a TV show in which a therapist counsels their client to “Let go of that feeling of shame …”
Healthy Shame is a Natural Motivator
So what is the application to the question of Laziness? It is normal for an individual to be ashamed of themselves for their own moral failures and, specifically, for their own Laziness. Ideally, when an individual experiences this kind of “healthy” shame, the pain to their conscience will be an aide to motivate them to change their behavior. In this sense, the pain of shame is actually a good and healthy feeling.
Meaning #1 has Rule #1. Meaning #2 has Rule #2.
Unfortunately for the sake of clear thinking, “shame”, like so many other words, can have more than one meaning, as we saw in the examples above. When a word has more than one meaning, there is always a danger of confusing rules that apply to one meaning with rules that apply to another meaning. So, for the healthy sense of shame, (lets call this: meaning #1), there is a rule that states: “You should be ashamed of yourself for that moral failure!”. On the other hand, for unhealthy shame (lets call this: meaning #2), there is a rule that says: “You should completely let go of that feeling of shame, since it is not your fault.”
A Dangerous, But Tempting Mixup.
So, when someone hears an inner voice saying: “You should be ashamed of yourself for being so Lazy!”, then we would not want to allow a “loop-hole” by which they could fool themselves into disregarding that inner voice, (if it is, indeed, a legitimate pang of conscience.) By being aware that there are two, completely different senses in which the word “shame” can be used, we will be better able to distinguish which “rule” to apply. In summary, (for shame #1), we should embrace the pain of conscience as a tool to help us to change course. Alternatively, (for shame #2) we should ignore the false threat of shame due to second-hand guilt.
This analysis of the topic of shame is an example in which Laziness can be seen as a sickness of false beliefs due to mixed-up thinking. When a person’s legitimate conscience is telling them them that they should be ashamed for their sloth, (in the sense of shame #1), it can be tempting for them to respond to the voice of their own conscience with the wrong rule, (in the sense of shame #2). It is easy for a person to fall prey to this mental “switch” since it provides a “way out” from taking the blame. Additionally, for a person with foggy thinking skills, it can be very easy to confuse these two senses of “shame” when it is convenient to do so.