Degrees of theft
The ultimate crime is the theft of someone’s basic humanity. This is what happens when you shame another. Shame is the feeling of complete worthlessness and despair. It is a feeling of being reduced to something insignificant and even detestable. Shame is the sense of ones being, ones existence and all that one values and holds dear being negated. It is so annihilating, that in shame people want to finish the job by disappearing by hiding or even dying, which aligns the physical with the spiritual and emotional reality. When people shame others and do not in turn feel ashamed by their actions, it shows total disregard and indifference to the humanity of others. It is as if the one shamed was worth so little in reality that remorse for one’s own actions would be redundant, an overreaction. If this applies to the shaming of another in private, as happens in abusive relationships, how much more so when shaming is public. Public shaming leaves the victim with the feeling that the whole world has witnessed the insignificance and worthlessness of their existence and of their being. When people do the unspeakable as the four students at Reitz Residence did, it seems wrong to feel sympathy or show compassion for them when there is a conspicuous absence of shame or remorse on their part. To see the lawyer for the perpetrators stating how much they have suffered as a consequence of the actions taken against them seems to reinforce the complete devaluing of the personhood of the victims coupled with witnessing the public reaffirmation and restoration of the dignity and worth of the victims. It seems in such a situation that forgiveness’ and redemption needs to come from those directly involved; it cannot be done by proxy where outsiders offer absolution on the victim’s behalf. The story was played in the public domain, the redemption to be meaningful and to truly serve the victims needs to happen in the public domain. This case is not an isolated incident that happened in a vacuum. Both the perpetrators and victims represent the politics and histories of their respective cultures. If this case is going to be used as a model to foster integration and tolerance, then all the people involved need to publicly show that they are committed to creating a new history, where such discriminatory dehumanising attitudes and practices could simply not occur. This would entail accepting culpability and the legal and moral consequences for their actions. It would mean showing real remorse to the victims and showing in a practical way that they reject the attitudes and beliefs that permitted them to do what they did. If this were to happen-forgiveness would be assured.