Is there such a thing as being ashamed to act morally?

posted in: Ethics | 0

First, I was afraid that people would find me weird.

Peter Smith of Klean blogs about his first experience in picking up litter. In the Dutch workshop People, Planet, Participate he tells passionately about his work.

The effects of waste on the street are enormous.

In the Atlantic Ocean there are heaps of trash the size of Spain and France together. […] If litter is not cleaned up, it will sooner or later blow in a puddle, ditch, canal, river and is then discharged to the sea. These heaps in the sea are largely derived from waste what is thrown on the streets. – Translation from Blog Klean

Suppose that you do not pick it up, you let it blow. It blows in a ditch, canal, river and is discharged to the sea. There it will stay forever. The sun and currents makes that litter into smaller and smaller fragments. These particles are so small that eventually a fish sees it as plankton and will eat it. And eventually this fish is caught and eaten by your child. – Translation from the Blog Klean

But, Peter says, if 25% of the Dutch people picks up a piece of litter daily, then we have a new problem … there is too little to pick up!

So why don’t people do it? What are the possible reasons?

  • Litter is dirty.
  • They don’t know where to leave the litter.
  • People do not see it as a problem.
  • People are not aware of the consequences of litter.

The above reasons are not convincing. If it’s dirty you can use gloves and if you don’t know where to leave it, you can take a bag with you, so you can throw it in a trash can later. It’s also not true that people don’t see it, I hear people complaining a lot about litter on the streets. Further, I think being unaware is the reason why people don’t do it. I know people who have a sustainable lifestyle, and are conscious of what happens in the world and environment, and still don’t pick up litter. Being aware of something does not necessarily make you do something. (Although awareness can be a first step).

I know about the consequences of waste, and even more because of the workshop. But the days after the workshop, I walk right past the litter in the park in front of our house. I am aware of the consequences, I want to contribute to the world around me and yet I don’t pick up the waste right away. I feel a resistance. Simply because I’m afraid. I would be ashamed. And I’m not the only one. Peter also felt that way.

The idea of shame preventing you from picking up waste is intriguing to me. Is there such a thing as being ashamed to act morally?

But we are not ashamed when we buy organic food, send money to Africa, help seals or help an old lady get out of the bus. These are moral actions in which we don’t immediately have an apparent interest. Further, people see it too.

Honestly, I have no idea whether “moral shame” really exists and what could cause it.

You could say: just get over it and do it.

But I’m asking you to reflect on it. Are you too ashamed to do certain moral actions? Shame could otherwise unconsciously still get in the way of performing good deeds for sustainability.


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