A sense of guilt comes before shame.
Guilt is the pronouncement of wrongness, by written legal or moral codes, or by our own conscience.
If we agree with that pronouncement of guilt, then we may feel shame.
Shame is an emotion when one accepts, correctly or incorrectly, that one has failed, either morally, like breaking a law or code, or practically, like repeatedly failing algebra.
When one fails morally, we must consider the conduct of evil.
When we fail in social norms, we must wrestle with social inferiority.
When we fail practically, we must discuss ‘incompetence’.
There are people that accept more guilt than is proper, and there are people that refuse guilt that is deserved.
I know of three sisters, whose mother intentionally violated social norms; not illegal or promiscuous, but intent on being different.
They feel shame for their mother’s behavior.
But if there is any shame to be felt, it lies on the mother, not the daughters.
They need to let it go.
Likewise, I have a friend with pure German roots, who felt shame because of what Hitler did, but his family moved to America around WW1,
so he has no reason to feel shame.
The purpose of this article then, is to free people like this; free the innocent from shame they don’t deserve.
But there are also people who either refuse to accept guilt for an action, or refuse to accept that the action is a violation of any code.
So, what guidelines should we follow to accept guilt?
And what guidelines we should use to accept shame?
It is possible to acknowledge guilt without accepting shame?
Are we obligated to accept shame if we acknowledge guilt?
We may acknowledge an accusation of guilt without accepting the guilt.
Consider the Texas hairdresser, Shelley Luther, who violated the COVID order to keep her business shut when she has children to feed.
She might be guilty of breaking a rule, but I don’t think she has a reason be feel shame.
The rule and the judge were both tyranny that needed to be resisted.
Jesus came to Earth to free his people from the tyranny of twisted scripture.
He was was pronounced guilty of blasphemy, and crucified.
But he was unashamed and God the Father proved Jesus wasn’t guilty of sin, by raising Him from the dead.
Acts 5 of the New testament has an account of those who were judged guilty by men, but were innocent in God’s eyes,
and another account of a husband and wife who were judged guilty by God and was punished accordingly.
Read and learn.
Other modern examples:
1: A mother has three kids from three age groups, that go to three different schools. She cannot get them all to school on time, given the locations and starting times, so she rotates their tardiness. Technically, she is incompetent, and feels that way. But her other option is to speed the car and maybe run over another school kid. She is guilty of incompetence, but it is out of her control. Life is like that sometimes.
2: On the other side of the coin, a sure way to be incompetent by choice is to make promises and appointments, without intention to keep them, not caring how your broken promises affect others.
This is both a practical and moral guilt. That person should feel moral shame. Making promises just to be popular is not a good personality trait.
Some consider remorse to be a part of shame. It is the response of someone who sees their error, is willing to change.
Remorse seems to be the emotion that brings repentance.
But again, false guilt should not bring false shame or false remorse or false repentance.
Own what is your fault and refuse the shame of what isn’t your fault or isn't wrong to be, like your skin color.
Eric J. Rose