Shame not guilt cost Fred Goodwin his knighthood.

I awoke yesterday to a debate on Radio 4’s Today programme about the stripping of Fred Goodwin of his knighthood.  I did begin to wonder if listening to such adversarial interviews each morning puts me in the best frame of mind for the day.  That aside, it seemed that much of the complaint from the City and business community is that Mr Goodwin had not been charged with any criminal offence, nor done anything morally wrong.  At worse, he was merely a huge risk taker, and perhaps incompetent.

Putting to one side the valid issue of consistency with other people who were honoured and were involved in RBS and HBOS, which I accept is a problem, what is the justification for removing the honour without a finding of guilt?

It made me think of my own recent appointment to the House of Lords, when I was aware that although it was a great honour to me individually, the honour spread wider than just myself.  My families, the CCF (who were my then employer), and even my old state comprehensive school, all legitimately were honoured by my appointment.  I was part of wider groups who deservedly could take credit for their input, often sacrificially, into my life and career.

So just as Fred Goodwin’s knighthood brought honour to the banking sector, so his subsequent behaviour, although not criminal, meant his knighthood had to be removed.  Not because of the guilt and penalty axis we are so familiar with in our modern society, but because his behaviour had brought ‘shame’ on the banking sector.  The opposite of honour is not guilt, it is shame.

I think this is where we have much to learn from eastern societies which have often retained an appropriate understanding of honour and shame.  It is sad that we seem only to see this perspective, used in our media, to describe the terrible atrocities of honour killings.  But one only has to watch the programme Shameless (Channel 4) to see that retrieving an appropriate sense of honourable behaviour and shameful behaviour is appealing.

Of course, criminal behaviour is included within shameful behaviour, but the category is wider than that.  My friends who do cross-cultural work here and abroad often give the example of alcohol and drunken behaviour to illustrate shameful behaviour that some of Britain’s Asian communities do not want their young people involved in.  Who can blame them?  Do we not have much to learn from their perspective?

If the City understood the concept of shame, they would I believe agree with removing Fred Goodwin’s knighthood.