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  • Writer's pictureDan FitzPatrick

Shame, Shame, Shame

January 2017

No, this is not an article about the 1975 song of that name by Shirley & Company (though Millenials curious to see how badly their parents dressed in the ‘70s should check out the video on YouTube). This is about the old fashioned, Biblical concept of shame as “the painful emotion caused by a consciousness of guilt or shortcoming or impropriety” and why we need to bring it back.

Some in the audience may be familiar with “McCarthyism” and the hearings led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s into alleged Communist infiltration into the US Government. The term is defined as “the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence” (Wikipedia). In its vilest and most cynical form, it can be used as a tool to destroy someone’s character in order to prove or deflect a point, advance an argument or achieve a goal by indirect means.

The most famous example of this occurred during the Army-McCarthy hearings in an exchange between Senator McCarthy and attorney Joseph Nye Welch, chief counsel for the United States Army, who challenged the committee to provide the names of the 130 purported Communists or subversives in defense plants “before the sun goes down.” McCarthy responded by accusing, by name, a young attorney in Welch’s law firm of Communist affiliations through past membership in the National Lawyers Guild, effectively destroying the man’s future career. Welch defended his colleague and, when McCarthy renewed his attack, responded, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

In other words, have you no shame?

I mention this because character assassination (the malicious and unjustified harming of a good person’s reputation) has become commonplace in our society. We see it – and appear to accept it – in our politics. And we see it in our legal system, where it has become all too easy to accuse a person of some heinous act, putting them in the position of having to prove the negative, and seriously damaging their reputation in the meantime. I’ve seen this up front and personal: a good friend of many years is currently caught up in a Kafkaesque civil legal proceeding in which the systematic destruction of his character is the single, critical step for the complaining party to get money, not from him, but from other, deep-pocketed organizations with which he has been associated. This is a good man, a gentle soul. I do not believe that this tactic will succeed in the end. But in the meantime, much damage has been done, and our community has been deprived of this individual’s unique talents for far too long. That is wrong.

Here is my point: We have to stop this now, if for no other reason than that there’s a Commandment specifically addressing it (Exodus 20:16). We must extend the presumption of innocence beyond the courtroom and into our public discourse. We cannot countenance the use of character assassination as a tool to silence others or pursue extortion. If we don’t, we all will suffer. And then, the shame will be on us.

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