In a recent newspaper letter to the editor, a well-known television personality told the story of her teen pregnancy. She’d gotten pregnant out of wedlock at 17, and wrote that she had to endure her mother’s disappointment, her father’s anger, and the priest’s admonition.
The shame and ridicule were more than she could bear. She wrote, “I was no good. I had messed up. I knew it. My dreams and life were shattered. Days later, I was married off and sent away. I said I did not love this man. I was told, ‘You made your bed; now you must lie in it.’”
She went on to recount the damage to her self-esteem, which she called “life threatening,” and described being ostracized and condemned as a bad girl, though she had tried all her life to do well and make her parents proud.
Naturally, I feel compassion for her. She suffered because of the negative reactions of the significant adults in her life. But this situation was not all about her. It also was about the innocent, dependent baby that found itself in a tenuous situation: a chaotic environment where its parents were unprepared, uncommitted, immature teenagers having a sexual relationship, but they were unprepared for the biological consequences.
And it seems as if this person still doesn’t get it.
Feeling shame for behaviors that a community considers generally unacceptable is a most uncomfortable experience, but its purpose is to protect people from situations that cause pain to themselves and to others.
The motivation behind those, like the letter writer, who rail against shame, is clearly to disassociate behaviors from consequences.
They feel that judgment is a bad thing because it hurts feelings. But hurt feelings as a result of actions that hurt others are a good thing. They’re part of having a conscience. Only good people feel guilt. Only good people suffer from doing ill to others.
Suffering over doing wrong is human, natural, expected, and respected. To complain that wrongdoing to others should not result in any negative reaction is ultimately immature, defensive, and contrary to the notion of taking responsibility for how one’s actions impact others.
The TV personality complained about having to marry a young man she didn’t love in order to legitimize the baby and take responsibility as a family for the child’s welfare. Why is that a bad thing? Why was she having sexual relations with someone she didn’t have the highest regard for and wouldn’t choose to be the father of her inevitable children? Is it not in the best interest of the child to have the foundation of a family?
Submitting to responsibility for a dependent child seems like a noble action to me. Staying mutually committed for the well-being of another human being sounds noble to me!
Of course, people with noble intentions generally don’t undertake marriages this young. Adoption is often the best solution for children of these relationships - but I digress.
The author of this letter was making the points that the media should not focus on those young men and women who make this sort of “mistake,” because it hurts their feelings; and that these are private issues.
Generally, these are private issues. However, when people in the public eye and arena, and their families, display behaviors that undermine role-modeling obligations or expectations, it should be examined publicly because impressionable youngsters take their cues from their environment. When there is no public shame for destructive, hurtful, or illegal behaviors, our children see and emulate them, and the disasters grow exponentially.
So instead of lamenting how upsetting it is to be embarrassed being a pregnant youngster, it is important to point out to all the other youngsters out there what dangerous ground they tread when they walk as responsible adults, yet leave the footprints of naïve children.
Taking this story public is a fantastic way to warn children away from playing with the perks of a committed adult when they are in no position to take on responsibilities for their actions, or cope well with the emotional fall-out.
We are in an era that judges judgment itself as evil. It isn’t. Morals, values, principles, and ethics protect against pain and destruction.
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