May 24, 2011
The arrest and incarceration in New York of Dominique Strauss-Kahn last week made the headlines worldwide. DSK, as he is also called, was the head of the International Monetary Fund, a former Finance minister in France and was until the scandal a very serious contender for the French Presidency.
He has been accused of sexual assault and attempted rape of a hotel housekeeping employee.
In his recent letter of resignation from the IMF Mr. Strauss-Kahn said:
“To all, I want to say that I deny with the greatest possible firmness all of the allegations that have been made against me. I want to protect this institution which I have served with honor and devotion, and especially - especially - I want to devote all my strength, all my time and all my energy to proving my innocence.”
The reaction has been mixed in France. According to a recent poll, 57% of the French believe that he is the victim of set-up. Bernard Henri-Levi the philosopher and author is outraged at the media coverage of the arrest and court appearance because of its humiliating effect on his long time friend. French law prohibits the publication of images of an identifiable person who has not been convicted. President Sarkozy instructed his government not to speak publically about the case.
We should first remember that under our system of law, any individual is considered innocent until proven guilty. A verdict on this case is months or most likely years ahead.
However if the allegations are true, the word that then comes to my mind is “shame.”
A shame for France, for international institutions and shame for us…. Men! If convicted, he will then have by his actions, shamed his country, the organization he worked for and his gender.
Nevertheless, sometimes shame can have a positive role in society. Shame can be good deterrent to un-ethical and illegal behavior. Most of us fear shame and public disapproval. We never want to be embarrassed or be an embarrassment. According to Ruth Benedict, the American cultural and social anthropologist, shame occurs when cultural and social values are violated. It is reassuring to think that society has values, even though they change with time.
Shame can also have a corrective or even a redemptive value. Any moment of shame or embarrassment should lead us to a serious soul-searching that can in turn lead us to a change of behavior.
As Willard Gaylen, the American psychiatrist and bioethicist once said:
“Shame and guilt are noble emotions essential in the maintenance of civilized society, and vital for the development of some of the most refined and elegant qualities of human potential.”