Conservatives seem to have a problem: we don’t make it easy for others to admit we are right. Of course, it is usually difficult for anyone to admit their previously held position is incorrect, no matter how loosely or adamantly it was held. And it doesn’t help that the most popular conservative pundits will not miss the opportunity to shame a political opponent by making fiery or inflammatory comments about a commonly held liberal view.
Before I address the solution to this problem, one must understand the difference between shame and guilt. For the purposes of this article, I will define “shame” as a feeling about one’s whole self and “guilt” as a feeling about one’s behavior or actions. This difference does have an etymological foundation, as “guilt” comes from the Old English gylt, referring to a crime or sin, while “shame” comes from the Old Saxon skama, referring to a state of disgrace which is the loss of mercy and love. Skama may have older origins in the Proto-Indo-European root skem, meaning “to cover”, i.e., one’s whole self. To illustrate this difference, we need not look further than the story of the Fall of Man.
After transgressing against God’s command to not eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve cover their nakedness with fig leaves and hide themselves. Satan pointed out their nakedness and brought upon them shame. With this shame, they seemingly believed they had lost any chance to regain favor with God. They rightly felt guilt, as they had disobeyed their Father, but they did not need to feel shame as we have defined above. Guilt is a natural feeling that should accompany any sin or transgression, but shame brings the idea that we cannot repent right away. Shame tells us that we must hide ourselves for a time until the cooldown period of sin has expired and we can start turning towards good things again. No such cooldown period exists. We can begin the repentance process immediately, as long as we are doing so earnestly. God will always see us in charity, and that allows us to change.
My example above uses the heavy language of sin, crime, and transgression, but for my purposes in this political opinion piece, we need not dwell on the heavy nature and eternal implications of that example, and we may instead view it only symbolically. We will instead focus on guilt being the internally imposed bad feeling you get when you are wrong in thoughts and actions and shame being the externally imposed bad feeling often accompanied by the idea that you cannot change because your wrongness or bad actions are a part of you.
Oftentimes, we refuse to change because 1) others will not allow us to change and 2) we will not allow ourselves to change. I want to dissuade you from shaming others for holding certain political, philosophical, or theological views and allow our ideological opponents to start thinking like us without fear of being called a hypocrite, a flip-flopper, or anything else that is less-than-friendly.
We humans sometimes have a hard time thinking consciously. In our day-to-day interactions, we often don’t think too deeply about what we are saying. This is obviously true when we exchange greetings and other pleasantries, but even when having a conversation about politics, the neighborhood kids, or a company policy, there are typical things we say when a particular topic comes up. One problem with this is that oftentimes, our typical talking points are in the middle of the issue. What do I mean by, “the middle of the issue”? Middle-of-the-issue talking points are the ones we hear on cable news. Being in the middle of the issue is where you take a side of an issue, but you have no concrete place where you stand on that side. Taking a position and taking a side are not the same thing.
Take the following example. You and your sister-in-law are in a discussion where book banning in schools comes up. She, as a more libertarian-liberal-type, is against all book banning in public schools, with the exception of the Bible. Why? Because the nazis and the communists banned books but we need separation of church and state; pretty standard talking points. You, on the other hand, have a slightly more nuanced view, but that view can be articulated very simply. Good things should not be banned, and bad things should be banned. Go-to examples nowadays might be something pornographic, like Gender Queer, or something perverse, like The Satanic Bible. The content of those books should be kept away from children. If in this conversation you begin by attacking your sister-in-law for being on the wrong side and ridiculing her for that, you may not convince her, and even if you do convince her in the moment, it may not stick. She may have changed sides by the end of the conversation, but maybe just to get out of the semi-hostile environment. She didn’t really think about it and let herself take a true position.
As said before, humans don’t like to think. As a result, we don’t like to take a position, but we are more than happy to take a side. Even when people aren’t particularly interested in politics, they will gladly pick a side and that side will often coincide with the popular culture, which is currently liberal. It is not easy to get mere side-takers to truly change sides, but once they do, they are more likely to not only switch sides but also take a position.
When we have conversations with charity towards others, we give them an off-ramp, so to speak. We must give them room to think and not just defend their side. We do not need to supply shame because, if they recognize for themselves that they are wrong, they may provide their own guilt, which is more than enough to act as an impetus for change. We must view ideas as they are – ideas, either good or bad – and we must view people as they are – people.
Written by: Jacob Fisher
Contributor at the Cougar Chronicle
The opinions in this article are those of the author.
The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run newspaper and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.