Eve covers herself and lowers her head in shame in Rodin's Eve after the Fall. (from here)
Eve covers herself and lowers her head in shame in Rodin’s Eve after the Fall. (from here)

Because it is so powerful, shame is a dangerous tool. Imagine living in ancient Sparta and hearing a story about a boy stealing a fox from your teacher.

The Spartan boy, learned only the basics, according to Plutarch, such as music and mathematics. Their principal training is a military one, often even crossing moral boundaries, such as learning how to steal without getting caught. The philosophy was that, in case of a war, a soldier might have to steal food in order to survive. The main key point here is that, when a boy was caught, he was not punished for his act of stealing, but for being caught!  The Spartan youth had their favorite “game” of stealing food or other possessions from servants (Greek: είλωτες, helotes).

A well-known story that proves the Spartan training and loyalty is this: Once, a 13 year old Spartan boy stole a fox from a village near his camp. Alas, a trainer found him and asked him what he was doing off campus. The boy had seen the trainer and had hidden the fox beneath his cloth. As the boy said nothing, the trainer insisted. The fox, still alive, beneath the boy’s cloth, started scratching him, in order to escape. While doing that, the boy continued to deny the stealing until the wounds suffered by the fox killed him. (from here)

Because the boy would have been shamed if he had been caught, he endured the pain of the scratching fox. He also chose to die rather than expose the fox and admit he could not endure the pain. Therefore, the Spartans admired his bravery and toughness, and his story became part of their legend. Thus, the Spartans used shame to to steel the discipline and courage of their warriors.

Like the Spartans, we also use shame to raise our children and to maintain societal order. When our children do something wrong, or when they fail to do something they should do, we shame them. We do so to train their consciences, to show them how they should respond to their consciences. Eventually, we want our children to do the right thing just because they know what is right, to show them that their own consciences will indict them if they fail to do the right thing.

We also shame adults when they ignore their consciences and misbehave. In The Power of Shame, Doug Bandow explains how a community punished a man who stood by and did nothing when his friend assaulted a girl. He describes how a community withdrew its fellowship from someone the law could not punish.

Some will ask, of course, whether or not it is right to withdraw our fellowship or ostracize another human being. There is a verse in the Bible that plainly commands us to do so.

Matthew 7:6 New King James Version (NKJV)

“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

However, we should bear in mind the lesson of Matthew 7:1-5. Because God will judge us using the same measure we use to judge others, we should only treat those who leave us no other choice as dogs or swine. We must not forget that shame is a weapon, one we can use both to mask and expose vile sins. That is especially true when it comes to politics.

Consider this observation about narcissism.

It has been suggested that narcissism in adults is related to defenses against shame and that narcissistic personality disorder is connected to shame as well. Psychiatrist Glen Gabbard suggested that NPD could be broken down into two subtypes, a grandiose, arrogant, thick-skinned “oblivious” subtype and an easily hurt, oversensitive, ashamed “hypervigilant” subtype. The oblivious subtype presents for admiration, envy, and appreciation a grandiose self that is the antithesis of a weak internalized self which hides in shame, while the hypervigilant subtype neutralizes devaluation by seeing others as unjust abusers. (from here)

How does such narcissism play out in politics? Consider what happens we sin.

  • We can acknowledge our sin. We can be ashamed. We may have trouble stopping ourself from sinning (Illicit sex, drug abuse, and stealing, for example, often involve repeat offenses.), but we can accept the personal guilt.
  • We can refuse to admit we have sinned. We can deny we have any reason to feel guilty. We can even call our sin virtuous and blame our accusers. In fact, with a straight face we can heap shame upon our enemies.

Consider our current cast of presidential candidates.

Hillary ClintonClinton shame

Here is the first thing we see on Hillary Clinton’s website.

Check out Clinton’s issues list. If you don’t want Hillary Clinton to break down the barriers of race, gender, and sexual orientation and spend all your money for you, you must be a very selfish soul. If you are not for Hillary Clinton — electing the first woman president — you must be very selfish soul.

Ted Cruz Cruzappeal

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, offers this message.

Cruz is selling his record.

Ted Cruz – proven, passionate, effective fighter for limited government, economic growth, and the Constitution. (from here)

Cruz wants what he calls “courageous Conservatives” to join his team. Instead of fighting to be a powerful chief executive, Cruz is fighting to restore traditional values.

Who does Cruz try to shame? Corrupt politicians who spend our money like there is no end to it. What does he suggest for the rest of us? He urges us to see there is still hope if we are willing fight for our country. Cruz never comes out and says it, but there is no mystery here. Because we are letting our leaders get away with raiding the public treasury, he is saying we should all be ashamed.

Bernie Sanderssandersshame

At his website Sanders greets us with the Socialist’s traditional appeal for class warfare.

Sanders shames — demonizes — the successful. We all exist to pay taxes (How Bernie pays for his proposals) and give up our rights so various victim groups (Issues page) can get their “rights.” Don’t the “rich” have endless piles of money?

Donald Trumptrumpslogan

Trump leads with this slogan. Trump’s message is that he is the indispensable winner.

Here is the kind of headline Trump boasts about.

Donald Trump Has Double-Digit Lead Over Ted Cruz In Indiana Poll

Winning is the focus of Trump’s campaign, beating The Establishment. Look at his Issue page.

The Establishment

I want to win for the people of this great country. The only people I will owe are the voters. The media, special interests, and lobbyists are all trying to stop me. We won’t let that happen!

Ironically, Trump has used that fortune of his to contribute millions to Establishment politicians. But Trump is supposedly a winner. Supposedly, only a loser would oppose him.

Why is Trump running?  Check out Trump. Nobody can read minds, but that article is as good a guess as any.


When our leaders seek to sway us, one of their tools is shame, and some of them can be shameless. Even if they have a record that should shame them, they will proudly stand forth as accomplished leaders. Even when the schemes they propose have been tried repeatedly and failed every time, they will still bold proclaim that only they have a plan to save our nation. Even when there is no good reason to trust them, they will still demand we give them everything and trust them.

At the same time they will shame all who oppose them. Their list of epithets is endless: selfish, racist, thief, liar, homophobe, sexist, pussy, pathological, fat cat….., even Establishment.

If we want our country to work, we need leaders who want to talk about how our government is suppose to work and what our government is suppose to do. We most certainly don’t need people who think that they are God’s gift to us, people who are not willing to obey the Constitution.


  1. Good thoughts.

    Shame when used to motivate a person can be effective if the person feels a sense of personal guilt.

    What are voters guilty of? In my opinion,we should feel guilt for allowing our country to be used and our interests manipulated by our leaders. For example, 20 Trillion Debt, 50 million Americans on food stamps, 30 million jobs outsourced, drugs allowed to enter our borders while US sends our military to protect other nations borders at our expense, poor costly education, high cost of drugs, and our farmland and real assets sold to holders of our incurred debt. aborttion, etc.

    I won’t even address morality in America because it is too shameful a subject.

    The best way to motivate is to motivate instead with understanding and kind explanation.
    Problem is not many voters are motivated to listen to this type of motivation. In my opinion, voters are motivated more by bones as I explained in this post.


    Regards and goodwill blogging.

    1. @scatterwisdom

      I read your post. Excellent!

      Over the years I have listened to a radio program called “Through the Bible” by J. Vernon McGee. McGee died decades ago, but his radio ministry lives on. It is a program that goes through the Bible every five years. It is worth making this journey every five years.

      Since it is relevant to what the Bible has to say, McGee observed how a society becomes corrupt. He said there are three stages: apostasy, moral awfulness, and political chaos.

      Here is my take on what McGee had say.
      1. Apostasy. People cease to worship and teach their children about the One True God.
      2. Moral Awfulness. No longer obedient to God, devoted to idols of their own making instead, people begin to practice every kind of sin.
      3. Political Chaos. The people, as they become more and more corrupt, no longer make the effort to protect each other. Unrestrained by the people, leaders make up the laws to suit their wishes.

  2. Hmm, interesting, Tom. I too explore issues around shame and narcissism. I like to say, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the cross, I learned that when you lay down pride, you also lay down shame. Shame is the flip side of pride, so when one manages a state of humility, one cannot be humiliated. That is what shame pricks, our pride. No pride, there is nothing to trigger, no shame buttons to push. I also take note of the fact that Jesus Christ went to the cross “despising the shame” on our behalf.

    I am absolutely shameless these days. That doesn’t mean unteachable or prone to sin, but simply impervious to those who try to shame me. It makes this election especially challenging because it is all about the shame and I am so not impressed.

    1. When we lay down our pride, we also lay down our shame. Shame has its place, but there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). If we love God, we need not fear being ashamed.

      So it is that I suppose the narcissist fights being shamed more in terror than in boldness. When I think of that 13 year old Spartan boy, I cringe. Think of the terror and the pain as the fox killed him. Yet he was more afraid of being shamed. What kind of society would do that to a child? What kind of society are we constructing?

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