Recovering from shaming

Of all the books written about recovering from shame, one could be written about recovering from shaming.

Shaming others.

It happens.

We all do it.

Today it made the headlines.

In the NCAA basketball tournament yesterday, Louisville lost a game it should have won against a lower-ranked team.  An understandably upset Louisville coach, Rick Pitino, took it out on a student who wrote for the school newspaper.  The coach ridiculed the kid for asking what Pitino thought was a stupid question at the post-game conference.  Today a headline read, “Pitino shames student reporter.”

It happens.  We lose our composure.

One of my favorite stories about Abraham Lincoln occurred when he had left the White House during the sweltering summer that Washington, D.C. seems to specialize in–hot and steamy.  In the worst of the heat, Lincoln would retreat to a Sailors’ Home on the outskirts of the city.  The Sailors’ Home occupied a cooler setting.

Lincoln, pressed by worries over the war, had gone to the Sailors’ Home to see if he could get a good night’s sleep.  Instead, he was awakened by an officer.  The officer had ridden his horse to the home in order to deliver a message.

Lincoln answered the door roaring.  Normally very cautious about how he dealt with people, the President bellowed, “Can’t I even get one night’s rest?”

The officer slinked away.  Lincoln instantly felt awful.  The next day, he learned where the officer was staying, went to the hotel, knocked on the door — and had a sit-down with the young soldier.  Lincoln apologized, and then laughed, slapping the man’s knee, “I really gave it to you, didn’t I?”

One time, Harry Truman was speaking at a Democratic convention — after his days as President — and he was getting heated over some issue, and he mentioned a young politician by name and ridiculed him.  The next day, Truman sought out the young man on the convention floor and spent time with him, showing everybody his very public apology.

I saw Bill Clinton shaming a high school student during a televised town-hall meeting.  The teenager was a born-again Christian.  He asked a leading question about the President being on the wrong side of abortion.  Clinton snarled, snapping that “the smirk on your face” showed the kid was too sure of himself on a complex issue.  By the end of the town-hall meeting, the President had calmed down, realized what he had done, and remarked, “I’m proud of that young man for having the courage to ask that question.”  The audience applauded.

In college, I learned a lot from the chairman of the journalism department.  The late Vincent LaBarbera helped build Point Park College into what it is today — a university.  One thing Mr. LaBarbera told us students has stayed with me all these years later.  He said, “Good writing is good re-writing.”  We often don’t get it right the first time.  We do our best work re-writing.

The same can be said of how we interact with others.  It doesn’t always go well, especially when we’re feeling pressured.  We can be thankful if there’s a second chance.


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