I am certain some of you have been following the campaigns of those seeking the presidential nomination for the Grand Old Party (GOP). I have paid close attention to the speeches, advertisements and in particular, the debates. The candidates’ misinformation and their downright lies have been bothersome. I have even considered moving to the Dominican Republic if one of these characters becomes president. Though we have been told that politics is downright dirty, men of honor and integrity always look for honesty and sincerity.
This is not a political column. However, the impetus for today’s column is this election period. Providing misinformation is not exclusive to the world of politics. Unfortunately, not telling the truth or providing an unsubstantiated slant on issues exists in all facets of life. In listening to what spills out of the mouths of so-called learned men who hold and have held responsible state, federal and private sector positions, I have asked myself, “Do these people have no shame?” This is a question that you expect one would ask, particularly if they recall when one was guided by the impact of our behavior on ourselves and our families. A guiding principle in the development of responsible men and women back in the day was not embarrassing ourselves and those who mattered to us.
My generation was instilled with the fundamental belief that what we said, how we behaved and how we presented ourselves had to be in keeping with standards of sound family values. This was non-negotiable! Our ancestors demanded that we not only look the part, but that we also act the part. So, what did this really mean? One of my colleagues placed this in perspective when he told me that the determinant as to whether or not one is unashamed is defined by “the grandmother test.” This test requires that you not say or do anything that would be unacceptable to your grandmother. How important is this to young people today? Clearly, in far too many quarters, being embarrassed is of little or no importance in comparison to expected standards of back in the day.
You would have to be blind not to see some of the fashion statements I see in the city and suburbs. You also see these sights in schools; at clubs and in other entertainment venues. You can even see them in church. It is not only teenagers and young adults, but women well into their fifties and sixties who wear outfits more appropriate for burlesque or pornographic movie. I just shake my head when I see hemlines a foot or more above the knees; with lots of skin showing in the midriff area and well below the neck. Females leave little to one’s imagination by what they wear, or more appropriately, are not wearing. I wonder just what is going on in the minds of some of our older “sisters” when they are out and about wearing micro-mini outfits. I ask if they are not embarrassed in light of my miniskirt rule: If you wore miniskirts back in the day, you have no business wearing them today. Boys and young men are just as bad. From where I sit, the pants well below one’s posterior are downright disgusting. The hoodies, the earrings and other articles proudly worm today are the kinds of things we would have been embarrassed to wear. Even if we wanted to wear some of these extreme outfits, we were forbidden to do so by our parents. These outfits are not limited to everyday wear or Saturday night; outfits that were obviously embarrassing to wear in the past are even found in church today. The use of inappropriate words or unacceptable behaviors does not result in embarrassment today, as was the case back in the day.
The loud and unruly behavior we observe today does not seem to embarrass many people. I cringe when I hear people of all ages use language associated with drunken sailors as they walk down the street. There was a time when such language came from males; today, females are just as bad. There was also a time when younger people would not use profanity in earshot of older people. If someone used profanity around another person, particularly an elderly person, he would look at you, put his hand over his mouth and say, “Excuse me.” Now all of this has changed. The request to be excused for using profanity is indicative of the embarrassment associated with such behavior in the past. Today, we see people engaging in all types of unruly behavior in public. Quite often, the more vocal and violent such behavior becomes, the larger the crowd drawn to the action. Just think about how often you saw such sights in the past. Someone observing such an encounter would intervene and say to those involved, “Stop this and go home, for you are surely embarrassing yourselves.” Casual observers of inappropriate behavior, because of strong family and community values, were embarrassed even if those involved were not. This is indicative of the values embraced by our brothers and sisters back in the day.
How many of you recall saying or doing something that may have been disrespectful to an elderly person and not immediately reacting? There was an element of embarrassment that caused you to return to that person and apologize. As a child, if you did something bad or disrespectful to an elderly person and your mother or father learned of such an incident, you had to return to apologize and express your embarrassment of your actions and the embarrassment to your family. Of course, this all occurred after you received one of those old-fashioned major beatings characteristic of loving family discipline back in the day.
Acting up in school; getting bad grades; getting into a fight; not coming home promptly after school, staying out all night; hanging around with the wrong crowd; telling falsehoods; not eating what your mother placed on the dinner table; failure to do your weekend chores and a laundry list of other expected behaviors are things that caused you or your family embarrassment in the past. Doing many of these things today seems acceptable. Too often, the result is escalating behavior that contributes to the dysfunction within the family and the community; examples we see all around us today. Shame on them; shame on you; and shame on all of us for not feeling the embarrassment we felt in bygone years.
Think about some recent experiences in a club or bar. Females come and go; in many cases they are alone. They come in the front door and head straight to the first seat they can find at the bar. Not so, back in the day. Women were embarrassed to be seen going in a bar alone and almost never sat at the bar. This was such an issue that females had a separate entrance. Check out some bars today and you can still find signs, although barely visible, marked “Women’s Entrance.” The era when females used separate entrances to bars or clubs was also the time when females would not smoke in public. As a non-smoker, perhaps I pay close attention to smoking in general, and women smoking in particular. We all know that females smoked in the past. However, this usually occurred in private. They made it a point not to be seen smoking in public. Today, it obviously does not matter; there seems to be no shame.
Being young, pregnant and unmarried was not just an embarrassment, it was an absolute disgrace. So families did a number of things to avoid the embarrassment of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. I know you are familiar with the term “shotgun wedding.” In simple terms, love or no love, you got married even if you did not live together. In some cases, the female went South to have her baby and another member of the family reared the child. The mother would return home as if nothing had happened, telling friends and neighbors that she had been on vacation. In other cases, young unmarried pregnant females went to places like Booth Maternity Hospital on City Line Avenue until the child was born. The child was then placed for adoption or given to another family member to rear. Today, it is not unusual for an unmarried female to have a baby and there is no shame. In fact, in a number of cases the pregnancy is planned, as the female has no desire to get married. This was not something you could get away with back in the day.
Issues related to dysfunctional family and community life are complicated. There are no easy answers, and clearly there is no single answer. I maintain, however, that we could see significant progress in a multitude of things we complain about by instilling in our youth the virtue of feeling ashamed, as was the case when we embraced “the grandmother principle,” as many did, back in the day.