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Culture

Why do people feel shame?

Why do we feel embarrassed sometimes? Why do people blush? An exhibition at the German Hygiene Museum explores the phenomenon.

Eyes averted, head bowed, a hand in front of one's mouth: These gestures are a typical part of Japanese communication, established ways to express modesty, servility and even shame.

Is shame only determined by history and culture?  If a person's definition of what's "shameless" influenced by environment and traditions? Do we live in a culture of shamelessness because nudity and sexual freedom are no longer taboo?

Or is the aptitude for shame an important social regulating tool, part of human nature? Could shame be essential for human communities?

Shame is human

These are questions the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden asks and attempts to answer in the exhibition "Shame. 100 reasons to blush." The phenomenon is examined from a scientific, artistic and historic point of view.

Playmobile figurines (Oliver Killig)

Adam and Eve suddenly felt ashamed of their nakedness

There are endless reasons to feel embarrassed, and the Dresden exhibition has highlighted 100 of them. Visitors suddenly find themselves standing on scales, or are confronted with a public projection of how they were looking at a sculpture. Shame is existential when visitors examine objects detailing mankind's cruelties and realize that they belong to a species that is capable of mass murder.

Shame and humiliation on the internet

The internet abounds with cruelty these days. Tyler Clementi, a young American violinist, committed suicide as a result of his roommate's cyber-mobbing attacks, a case that made headlines worldwide.

Donald Trump survived his sexist "grab-them-by-the-pussy" comments unscathed, where the life of White House intern Monica Lewinsky was in ruins after her affair with President Clinton became known. "Bill Clinton is regarded as one of the most popular US presidents of all time, Monica Lewinsky will always be remembered in relation to the scandal," said Andrea Köhler, a correspondent for the "Neue Züricher Zeitung" newspaper.

Two-faced shame

Shame is fundamentally duplicitous, says the exhibition's curator Daniel Tyradellis. It's a social, group feeling, but it's also personal and individual. Human babies can even feel shame as early as 18 months of age - and it only becomes worse during puberty.

Although no one likes to feel embarrassed, shame has a necessary, community-building function. "It shapes private, personal relations just as much as the professional, institutional ones," says Tyradellis. 

 

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