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Perspectives

Chris Jepson

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I stumbled on a word that I was convinced was created out of late night whimsy and excess. One of those Scrabble bluff words. Impudicity. I was laughing and conversing with a witty individual, and we both said, “No way that is a reeeeal word!” Wrong. Impudicity. It’s a noun that means shamelessness, immodesty. An appropriate application? Think: Republican economic policy.

Actually, impudicity was woven into an e-mail account name that a lesbian friend of mine was contacting to see if the person on the other end was worth knowing. We speculated on what impudicity implied, it’s context, it’s suggestive qualities when, on a whim, we consulted Uncle Webster and bingo! It’s the real deal, a legitimate word.

Shamelessness suggests operating without shame. I once read that even monkeys feel shame. How that was determined is anyone’s guess but I get the implication. That if a creature, oh, say as primeval as a monkey can experience shame, then surely shame is part of the universal human condition.

I just finished an excellent book titled, “The Finkler Question.” It offers a modern fictionalized examination of what it means to be a Jew in 21st century Britain. Shame, it would appear, is more of a consideration within the Jewish community — something to acknowledge and reflect upon. Jews take on, and unreasonably I might add, the “sins” of their brethren. That Bernie Madoff, as one example, was such a hurtful, deceitful schmuck and that he was a Jew is a “shameful” reflection of the whole tribe, so to speak. That’s a collective ownership I would never embrace. Jews are no more prone to corruption or malfeasance or any other human shortcoming. Historically, I understand their dread. To standout for the “wrong” reasons was an invitation for reprisal, as if a provocation was ever required.

Personally, I can vividly recall the two instances in my life when I have felt intense shame. “Only two, Jepson?!” Yes, two. I’ve embarrassed myself any number of times, but embarrassment is not even remotely at the level of shame-inducing behavior. I broke my nose four times before I was 20 years old. I used to lead with my nose. Hah! Ah, impetuous youth. There’s no shame in stretching, pushing the limits of life when the crash victim is just you, the solitary individual. I still shudder, however, over my shameful behavior. It’s as real today as when I committed either act. Mea culpa. Sigh.

Impudicity. Shamelessness. And immodesty. Immodesty when combined with shamelessness suggests (to me), a certain wantonness. An over-the-top, uninhibited libidinousness. And, exactly how bad could that be? Between consenting adults, of course. Exactly. Recall the 1963 movie “Tom Jones”, the tavern dinner scene and subsequent, uh, events. I think that glorious impudicity.

“The only shame is to have none,” observed Blaise Pascal.

Now that is an intriguing quote. It could, quite possibly, mean two distinct things. One, that you are so deplorably shallow as to have lived the unexamined life. And woe is you.

Or, two, you have lived such a cautious, limited life that not once did you ever put yourself “out there” — that your behavior so egregious that it crossed over to shameful.

To experience neither is not to have lived at all.