Do We Need More Shame?

In having recently published a book about my experience of redemption from prison, I have reflected on some of the profound moments I experienced along the way. One moment came the morning I was arrested and interrogated.

Those who have read my book have read an abbreviated version of my interrogation by two detectives while my father was in the room (If you have not read the book, click here to get a copy today).

I remember sitting across the desk from the detective. His eyes were bloodshot and every pore of his body exhumed the smell of coffee. I could tell he was not in a chipper mood, to say the least.

He started off with a straightforward question about my involvement in the crimes in question. I looked to my father for an answer.

I thought, I don’t want to incriminate myself. I don’t want to make this worse.

Dad’s eyes met mine before he took a deep breath and gave the following answer to the question in my eyes.

“Just answer the questions,” he said, then added. “You made your bed and you must lie in it.”

You want me to incriminate myself, even though prison time may be on the table? I thought angrily. Why!?

I remember being upset and a bit smug about the entire matter. I acted almost as though I were a victim to the situation, rather than the perpetrator. I despised having to answer those questions, even though it felt better to get it all in the open.

I look back on that experience and recognize a profound lesson. Where I had been a young teenage boy irritated that dad urged me to answer all the questions truthfully, I reflect as an adult and recognize something completely different. He was not asking me to incriminate myself. He was asking that I tell the truth so we could start the long and painful process of repentance.

In order to kick that process off, I needed to own what I had done. I had incriminated myself by committing the crimes already. What I needed was to feel SHAME for my actions. I could not feel that shame without first owning what I had done, reaping the fruits of my labor. It would have been better if I had not been involved, but I was and that could not change (unless I had a time machine). If he shielded me from those fruits, then I may never have felt shame. If I never felt shame, I may never have changed.

The fact is all emotions serve a purpose, even the negative ones. Fear keeps us from taking unnecessary risks. Disgust keeps us from assimilating immoral practices. Shame spurs us to change that which we are ashamed.

Of course all these emotions can be taken to dangerous extremes. We can become fearful to the point of indecision. We can become disgusted to the point of hatred. We can become overburdened with shame for things we need not be ashamed, or become ashamed of correct and moral practices which causes us to assimilate incorrect and immoral practices.

Extremes aside, shame is an important emotion for corrective action. If we become tolerant of immoral practices, then we risk removing the important ingredient of shame and, rather than CORRECTING immoral practices we begin ADOPTING immoral practices.

I was resentful when my father required me to answer all the questions the detective asked of me that terrible morning. However, seeing the change that has been wrought upon my heart, I am now grateful he made me lie in the bed that I made.


Suggested study on the topic of shame:

Ezekiel 16:45-62. Read entire chapter for context.

Alma 39:7-8. Read entire chapter for context.

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