Are you from a shame culture or a guilt culture?

tvdxer

Senior Member
Minnesota, U.S.A. - English
One distinction commonly made in cross-cultural studies is between shame and guilt cultures. To sum up one of the best explanations I have seen of this concept, in shame cultures the emphasis is on how others see me after I've done something wrong (or even if I didn't but they think I do), while as a member of a guilt culture the focus is on the fact that I did something wrong, regardless of whether others know or not (and if they think I did but I didn't, I'll protest my innocence!).

Western culture in general is often thought of as a guilt culture.

Mexico, Japan, the Arab World, and Ancient Greece are often-cited examples of "shame" cultures.
 
  • samanthalee

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, English - [Singapore]
    It is a little difficult to define the situation in Singapore. Our government has sucessfully turned the pre-dominat Chinese population from a shame culture to a guilt culture within half a century.

    I am brought up in a guilt culture. My grandparents are of the shame culture. And my parents are caught in between.

    I would say the Chinese is a shame culture. It's a "you can do whatever you want, just don't get caught" mentality which drove a lot of our early entreprenuers. Of course we don't really know what they did, since they were never caught. But I do hear stories from my grandfather, who was one of those entreprenuers.:eek: Of course, the stories are always about other fellow businessmen and never about himself. :D
     

    Etcetera

    Senior Member
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    It's quite hard to place Russia in one of these two categories.
    On the one hand, the country sometimes becomes just obsessed with other countries' opinion of her, on the other - there have always been numbers of people who would talk about things that were done in a wrong way, regardless of how it may be viewed in other countries (the revolution of 1917 would be a nice example).
    But I find this distinction very odd in itself, since people tend to have strikingly different opinions of their own countries. Or maybe in other - smaller - countries they are of more homogeneous views?
     

    tvdxer

    Senior Member
    Minnesota, U.S.A. - English
    It's quite hard to place Russia in one of these two categories.
    On the one hand, the country sometimes becomes just obsessed with other countries' opinion of her, on the other - there have always been numbers of people who would talk about things that were done in a wrong way, regardless of how it may be viewed in other countries (the revolution of 1917 would be a nice example).
    But I find this distinction very odd in itself, since people tend to have strikingly different opinions of their own countries. Or maybe in other - smaller - countries they are of more homogeneous views?

    The shame vs. guilt distinction is about how people view / treat their own wrongdoings, not those of their country.
     

    Hotu Matua

    Senior Member
    México, español
    You have placed Mexico in the list of countries where "shame" culture prevails, and you are... absolutely right.

    In my country personal morality is heavily dictated by the possibility of gaining or losing acceptance from the society, the group of friends, the church, etc.

    A funny algorithm about "what to do when you've done something wrong" that I saw hanging on the walls of some business offices went like this
    "STEP 1: DID SOMEONE ELSE NOTICED? IF NOT, DON'T WORRY. IF YES, PROCEED TO STEP 2."

    Catholic faith and prehispanic cultures merged in sinergy generating this "shame" culture.
    It is true that catholic religion emphasizes personal responsibility, but different from Protestantism, it does provide a social way to handle guilt: the church as an institution, as a mother.
    Protestantism keeps the handling of guilt between the individual and the Mighty God. Catholicism provide you with priests, confession, penitence, the loving female figure of Virgin Mary, a myriad of saints to help you out and ease your guilt.

    For Prehispanic cultures the individuals had to honour the community as the primordial duty and purpose of their lives.

    One common example of how shame culture works in Mexico is the following :

    If you are a tourist lost in the city and ask for directions, everyone will be happy and eager to help you... even if they don't have a clue! And we will rather make up something, and give you wrong directions, than admitting that they don't have a clue. We Mexicans would not stand the shame of admitting it. And once we are done, we will walk away serene, happy and without a shade of guilt, because we think that, in the eyes of the lost tourist we appeared kind and generous... and that is what life is all about: save face and you will save your life.
     

    _forumuser_

    Senior Member
    Italian
    What's so "cheap" about it?

    Why I thought the shame/guilt society distinction--not your post--was cheap:

    - I doubt you can reasonably hope to fit the entire population of a country under one label. If you care about accuracy in your work, you simply cannot accept these wild generalizations.

    - Nobody uses "the Western world" in serious debate anymore. There never was such a thing as a racially and culturally homogeneous West.

    - Countries today are no longer racially or culturally homogeneous. There is no single society within one country, but many societies and many sub-groups, with their different sets of beliefs.

    - I would consider at least the possibility of some variation with regard to this issue within the 23 countries that belong to "the Arab World."

    - Fear of ridicule has such a fundamental impact on behavior in human societies everywhere. Americans are no less obsessed with how society views them than people elsewhere.

    - Countries, their people and their culture change. They might be changing at the very instant we define them a shame or a guilt society.

    Just a forero's opinion.
     

    tvdxer

    Senior Member
    Minnesota, U.S.A. - English
    Why I thought the shame/guilt society distinction--not your post--was cheap:

    - I doubt you can reasonably hope to fit the entire population of a country under one label. If you care about accuracy in your work, you simply cannot accept these wild generalizations.

    Whenever you research cultures, you must make generalizations. Obviously there will be "guilt" people in a "shame" culture - but they do not reflect the culture's population as a whole.

    - Nobody uses "the Western world" in serious debate anymore. There never was such a thing as a racially and culturally homogeneous West.
    Fair enough, but that's what my source used. To me: "Western world" = "Western (as opposed to Eastern) Christian world" And since when was this a "serious debate"?

    Countries today are no longer racially or culturally homogeneous. There is no single society within one country, but many societies and many sub-groups, with their different sets of beliefs.
    Again, when I speak of "Japanese culture" or "Mexican culture", I refer to the mainstream, overarching culture, not any subculture. Obviously there will be many exceptions in any large group.

    - I would consider at least the possibility of some variation with regard to this issue within the 23 countries that belong to "the Arab World."
    Most of these 23 cultures share many cultural traits, thanks to spread of Arab culture from the Middle East. Have you ever heard of the book The Arab Mind?

    - Fear of ridicule has such a fundamental impact on behavior in human societies everywhere. Americans are no less obsessed with how society views them than people elsewhere.
    Nobody said it didn't. We're talking about whether cultures view wrongdoings more as an individual issue (guilt culture) or collective issue (shame culture).

    Also, I take issue with that last statement.

    - Countries, their people and their culture change. They might be changing at the very instant we define them a shame or a guilt society.

    Just a forero's opinion.
    Cultures change, obviously, but not so fast that we cannot discuss certain traits they have traditionally possessed up to now.
     

    Etcetera

    Senior Member
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    The shame vs. guilt distinction is about how people view / treat their own wrongdoings, not those of their country.
    Thanks for clarifying this for me - I didn't understand the question perfectly, indeed.
    But still it doesn't make much difference: all I've said in my previous post can be applied to people's feelings about themselves. Some people tend to think more about others' opinion on them (it doesn't matter if I did something wrong, so long as nobody knows about it), some would feel guilty even if the society would think they were absolutely right.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I agree. I don't think there are shame cultures and guilt cultures; I think there are shame people and guilt people. Also, shame actions and guilt actions.
     

    Hotu Matua

    Senior Member
    México, español
    I still do think we can find "patterns" of behaviours, attitudes or beliefs among societies. And certainly we can find exceptions within those patterns.

    Some people may be affraid that when we detect "patterns", we are placing a label in front of people, making them fit into a rigid category, and judging their subsecuent acts according to this category. In other words, patterns about cultures can lead to prejudice.
    This fear has real basis.
    But again, recognizing the existence of "patterns" (such as "guilt" and "shame" culture, provided these patterns really exist) does not preclude the existence of individuals who, for a myriad of reasons, act or think in a different way.
    I admit I grew up in a "shame" society (Mexico), but the influence of parents, people and institutions around me determined that I manifested more a "guilt" personality. Knowing the pattern of most of people around me help me to understand them and interact with them. It helps me to celebrate the diversity of my country and to excercise (and expect) tolerance.
     
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