Shame & Guilt

January 15th, 2013 5:47 pm

Pavlo Smytsnyuk

Shame is considered one of the most complex human emotions. The aim of the workshop is to investigate the phenomenon of shame, to see its relation with the concept of guilt and to reflect whether it is a positive moral compass or a block that limits the development of our freedom. We propose to approach the topic of shame from different sides: biblical, psychological and artistic, and to make conclusions on the basis of our own experience.

The workshop can take between 1-2 hours depending on the length of conversation, and of how much time you give the groups to create the advertisements. It can be used for both small and large groups. It is composed of 3 discussions, advertisement preparation and presentation and a conclusion.


1.      Discussion about the connotations of the meaning of the concept of shame in different languages.

This discussion – if done in groups, composed of people of different mother tongues – can bring a lot of confusion and some very interesting insights into understanding of the idea of shame. For example, in some languages the concept of shame and that of embarrassment are expressed with the same term.

Example questions:

2.      Discussion about shame in the Bible

Read with the participants the biblical account of the fall (Genesis 2: 25; Genesis 3: 7-10, 21), show them the painting of Tommaso Masaccio, The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, ca. 1425 (maybe one of the best examples of how the shame is represented in art). Let discussion follow.

The embarrassment of being seen naked is excellently depicted in the paintings based on the Biblical account about the chaste Susanna (Book of Daniel 13). You can also show the reproductions of Rembrandt, Susanna and the Elders, 1636; Pierre Van Hanselaere, Susanna and the Elders, 1820.

Example questions:

3.      Discussion about the shame as social control/conditioning.

    1. Tell or read the story of Hester Prynne (the protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter) – convicted of the crime of adultery, and sentenced to be forced to wear a prominent scarlet letter ‘A’ for the rest of her life.
    2. Show the British poster of Savile Lumley, Daddy, What did YOU do in the Great War? 1915, and the Soviet poster of Velezheva/Kuzovkin, «He drank, swore, broke tree – ashamed to look in the face of people», 1958
    3. Show the Andrex ‘Moistened’ advertisement, Could you be cleaner? .
    4. To stimulate discussion of the relationship between advertising and shame, the groups can be invited to create two advertisements, either a spectacle or a poster, that will refer to the feeling of shame of the spectators (one – which refers to the moral feelings; another – in which the manipulation with ones feeling of shame or embarrassment is present). Let the groups present and comment on the advertisements. Let the discussion follow.

Example questions:


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