“Shame on you!” I would hear too often when growing up and I would be embarrassed or was I ashamed? Embarrassment and shame are two distinct things yet we tend to use them interchangeably. I like words and I like to find roots of words and their meanings and why we use them.
Shame literally means “to cover up” and its origin is biblical. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and discovered “knowledge” of good and evil; they sought to “cover up” themselves in the face of Almighty God. That covering came to be called shame.
Embarrass means to “perplex, or throw into doubt” and it was originally used for the wealthy in France who had so much money they didn’t know what to do with it: “embarrass de richesse.” It is the internal sense of awkwardness or expose’ from something you did or was done to you.
I think the difference between the two can be determined by another word: guilt. I believe embarrassment + guilt = shame.
I have done a LOT of stupid things in my life that embarrassed me. I have been in situations of EXTREME embarrassment through no fault of my own. I remember ripping my pants while bending over, tripping and falling in front of a classroom of merciless teenagers, getting easy problems wrong, asking for dates and being laughed at, or simply making the wrong decision. Each of these, where done to me or done by me, may be embarrassing but not shameful. Not shameful because there was no evil intent behind it, hence no guilt.
I have done some shameful things in my life as well. I have intentionally hurt people, I have said things for the sole purpose of causing pain, I have lied, cheated and stolen. All of these things I am ashamed of. I am more than embarrassed that I, a thinking, logical, moral person have been guilty of hurting others for no reason other than for hurting them; I am guilty; I am ashamed.
In our society today we try to take the guilt out of shame and call it embarrassment when it is something we should be ashamed of. Having a baby and not being married is not embarrassing it is shameful. “Forgetting” to pay your taxes or your house payment is not embarrassing it is shameful. Gossiping and verbally abusing others is not embarrassing when you get caught it is shameful.
Don’t get me wrong, we are all guilty of shameful acts, we all fall short of what we should be but NEVER try to eliminate the shame by calling it what it isn’t. When you are ashamed don’t simply say “THAT was embarrassing” you must LEARN and not do it again. If you don’t learn, if you don’t grow and get better; well, shame on you!