Shame Culture has Taken us All Back to Junior High

By rejecting divinely instituted moral standards in favor of changing opinions and judgement of the group, we are left with the uncertain insecurity and shame culture we experienced as adolescents.

I read an enlightening opinion piece in The New York Times by David Brooks titled “The Shame Culture” (3-15-2016) Rather than quote extensively from it, I will try to summarize a few ideas as I understand them and encourage all to read this article yourself. As often happens to me, at the time I read this I was also reading something else – a novel about High School bullying gone horribly wrong. I recognized the concept of shame culture as basically what we all endured as adolescents – only now more pervasive and disturbing.


Shame culture is about one’s feeling of being good or bad being connected to acceptance by a group. It is about conforming to the specific rules of the group and meeting their expectations to receive approval. Those who violate rules of conduct or simply do not fit in with expectations or conditions of the group are excluded. In the process they are judged and negatively labeled, leading to the conclusion and resulting feelings that they are bad.

Isn’t this what most of us had to endure in Junior High and High School? The desire to be popular, to have people – the right people – like us leads to sucking up to the elite, hoping for some attention and inclusion in return.

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Common Feelings of Differentness

I recently read some biographical accounts from people who struggled with various issues. They all pointed out feeling different from other kids as they were growing up. These and other experiences of my own and of people that I know caused me to wonder:

Is there anyone out there who has made it through adolescence always feeling like they were Okay, they fit it perfectly and had a wonderful time? If so, I would love to hear your story.

I have made the transition from Soccer Mom to Soccer Grandma. I enjoyed watching my girls play and now get to watch my grandchildren. As the oldest, my ten year old grandson, finished his last game of the season and was walking with his teammates off the field, it caused me to reflect a bit. This group of boys made a good deal of improvement from the beginning of the fall season to this last game of spring. When they began, some of them didn’t even know each other. Fortunately they had a good coach who encouraged them each individually, and also managed to teach them to work together as a team. They easily won their spring games. Watching them play, I got to know a little of their personalities. They are all unique with different strengths and quirks. It has been rather entertaining to watch them play. As they left that day, I wondered about where their future paths would take them.

The field they were leaving just happens to be across the street from the Junior High School which I had attended. Junior High was not a highlight of my life. In fact, sometimes I wonder how I survived it at all. I realized that in a very short time, these boys would be entering Junior High or Middle School. I wondered how they would navigate it and what experiences awaited them.

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