Shame is necessary for society
What ever happened to "Shame for the family"?
Didn't that used to exist, a powerful, palpable, ever-present threat that kept people from acting stupid?
Or is that just wishful reminiscence and watercolor nostalgia?
Even on the fictionalized Hawai'i depicted on "Hawaii 5-0," the really dastardly criminals weren't from here because if they were, McGarrett would just go to their house, make the dad shame and the mom cry and it would be over.
Wasn't there a time not too long ago when the thought of people whispering behind your grandmother's back in church about her good-for-nothing grandkid kept you going straight? Oh, no, I'm not going to steal that car with you. Oh, no, I'm not going to spray-paint the overpass with you. Oh, no, I'm not going to smoke no nothing with you. Shame for my family if I do. No worry, Gramma. You not going have to hang your head in the supermarket. You not going have to lower your eyes at the post office. Your friends won't whisper behind your back at the senior center. I won't shame the family.
Not that it's totally gone. There are still remnants.
In certain communities, police officers still take miscreants to their parents' doors and have a little sit-down in the parlor like Sheriff Andy. When there's a complaint about a troublemaker, some cops still ask, "Who's the family?" If there's a strong bond there, there's hope.
But more and more, you see kids — and old kids, kids in their 30s — acting stupid like they don't have anyone's reputation to uphold at home.
Maybe they don't.
Maybe they show up in the driveway with a strange car and nobody says anything. Maybe they always have spray paint on their hair but nobody wants to stir up trouble by asking. Maybe everybody at home is willfully ignorant and so engrossed in the fake world of reality TV that they can't be bothered with their kuleana.
Has Hawai'i become so big, so impersonal, so hardened that crimes get brushed off as just an inconvenience rather than an assault on decency and innocence?
The other side of the rise in brash criminality is the death of shame. It is more than the influence of music videos and violent computer games that make antisocial behavior seem cool and powerful. It is beyond parents putting airbrushed tattoos on their 2-year-olds as if indoctrinating them into thug life early. It is more than an assault on family values. It is the decay of social structure. It is the disconnect between what you do and where you're from, between who you are and who raised you.
We see politicians holding their heads up as they go to jail, elected officials failing to own up to past convictions, TV stars blowing off traffic violations like "What? What?"
Maybe the threat of shame doesn't work anymore, but it should.
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or firstname.lastname@example.org.