Shame is one of the Cathartic virtues.
I may not be using this term in exactly the way the Platonic tradition uses ‘cathartic virtues’, and it is possible that in that tradition Shame is dealt with elsewhere.
However, what I wish to suggest is that the cleansing power of Shame is much misunderstood and Shame is seen as something to be avoided and suppressed. While it is to be avoided – one should not act in a manner that will lead to feelings of Shame – those feelings that we identify as Shame and Shameful should not be suppressed.
Shame is that aspect of the human psyche which indicates a misalignment with Justice within the Universe. It is the harbinger of awakening. It is one of the key virtues that maintain, and help us to maintain, the vertical alignment with the Laws of Justice. I do not wish to suggest that the laws of any land are the Laws of Justice, but to suggest that there are actions which are lawful, and those which are unlawful, according to a greater wisdom than that demonstrated by laws within human society. These greater Laws are founded on the basis of Reciprocity and the mirroring of Consciousness within Itself. Everything which is done, is essentially done to oneself. Since the assumption is that one does not wish harm to oneself these Laws of Nature may be called Karmic Laws.
When one acts Shamefully the whole of Nature stands as witness to those actions, recognising the errors of the actions, at whatever level they may have been enacted; at the mental level as revenge is plotted for some perceived slight, at the emotional level as an injury begins to heal itself prompting thoughts of revenge, or at the physical level of acts undertaken that lead to the sense of Shame.
Many become so versed in suppressing Shame, as they do with breaking their word, that they no longer register its relevance in their lives. If they do acknowledge it, then they rapidly dismiss such a thing as weakness, instead of realising the cathartic value of the feeling to one’s soul. We are each trying to live in this world with as little personal suffering as is possible, but how that suffering is measured varies greatly from person to person. For some it may be seen in terms of success, and any perceived failure registers as suffering for them. For many people it is simply to act well towards others. Some wish to act well, to be seen as acting well, and thus become well-thought of. Others simply act well in recognition of the Laws of Reciprocity.
Essentially the premise of Good Will, and the Will to Good, underlie the Universe. Even when a severe and hurtful thing happens to an individual, the Universe will immediately begin building on that event towards a positive, a good, outcome for all concerned.
When we realise that consciousness is all that we possess, and that Consciousness composes the very substance of the Universe, we realise also that Reciprocity is the means whereby that Consciousness registers Its own well-being and intention of well-being towards other aspects of Itself. This is not to suggest that Consciousness is the same as consciousness, the individuated awareness possessed by an individual, but that all actions and intentions register within Consciousness and It seeks restoration of the balance of all Its parts within the Whole It is Itself, as well as within the part itself.
The ability to suppress Shame is not a step towards Universal Consciousness, but away from it. It serves as a denial of the actuality that the individual has acted poorly. As such it is a step towards ignorance, not awakening.
While all of this has been spoken of in terms of individual human beings it should be realised that it refers as much to institutions and nations as it does towards individuals. When a nation upholds Shameful acts of its citizens as acceptable, or ‘understandable’, or even necessary, it is creating an imbalance within the nation which will lead to the eventual destruction of that nation, through its own internal struggles. Similarly with any institution. When exploitative practices aimed at personal enhancement at the cost of another, are taken to be acceptable, severe penalties arise. It is the duty of the Greater to support and shield the Lesser, not to diminish them but to draw them towards the Greater. When such impoverished actions are praised for themselves, then this is clearly serving ignorance, not enlightenment, the darkening of the group intellect, not its awakening to a greater understanding. It teaches all to behave badly.
It is important to recognise that Reciprocity is not Revenge. Reciprocity is the restoration of balance. Revenge is an act from the same level, of personality or worse. It seeks to continue the imbalance or even amplify it.
I hope this is understood clearly, in the few words I have used, to describe the importance of Shame as an instrument of growth.