The Chrysanthemum and the Sword – Guilt & Shame

My latest inspiration comes from Ruth Benedict’s book describing the nature and behaviour of Japanese society during the Second World War. Even though this book was published in 1946, many ideas described in her book still exist. Perhaps they are not as evident, but the fundamental principles still remain. In most cases, when I was growing up, I learned how to behave by example and getting scolded by my parents. Television and school also played a major role in developing my character today. One of the things that struck me was the fact that Ruth Benedict’s description of the Guilt Culture as well as the Shame Culture.

Guilt

Now there are two types of guilt. One is defined by moral or penal law, the one where you plead guilty or innocent. The other is the internal feeling of responsibility or remorse for wrong doing. What is important about this is that guilt comes from within. Nobody makes you feel guilty but yourself. People may try to convince you to feel guilty, but ultimately you let yourself feel that way. With the Judaism and Christian influences in Western Culture, after experiencing guilt, we confess our errors and make amends. Of course if it severely violates legal and moral codes, that would result in more severe punishments. It is specific to the moment you made your error.

Shame

Christianity or other guilt-based ideals did not spread quickly to most Asian Nations. In contrast to the Western countries, a shame based society is more prevalent – In this sense, shame meaning the social implications when society has harmful knowledge of you, whether it is true or not. Think of bullying, when someone distorts information to be hurtful, the victim in shame based culture is severely wounded mentally and emotionally. What separates shame from guilt is that the feeling is both external and internal, while guilt is felt by the individual only. Shame is the general feeling of evaluating yourself based on how others would view you.

Comparing the Two

In addition to the distinction between guilt being the self, and shame an internalized interpretation of what society thinks of you, the two function differently.

When faced with a guilty verdict when you know you are innocent.
Guilt Culture – An individual will fight his innocence, for he did not do anything wrong.
Shame Culture – An individual will feel shame, regardless if it is true or not. Society has stained this individual and he has brought shame to his name and family.

When others do not know of what you did (or openly express it), yet you know you did something wrong.
Guilt Culture – Moral code and ethics will give you the realization of what you did was wrong, and you will feel remorse for it.
Shame Culture – If nobody knows about it, then no shame is brought. Life goes on.

Putting it together

Shame is a strong motivating tool in Asian culture because of the nature of the family system. To keep the children in order, a parent can exercise verbal dominance early to reinforce shame. Not only will they share with immediate family, they can also share the news to friends. The feeling of being ostracized or singled out is a miserable feeling for Asian men regardless of being raised in Asia or North America.

What does separate Asians raised in Asia from their North American counterparts is how well the internal guilt is developed. Much of this development comes from exposure to television, friends, school, and family. It is something learned and established. This is also what makes it disturbing, since this is a learned trait. If someone has not developed any ability to feel guilt, then the only way to measure up is to base yourself on what others think of you. Furthermore this is a serious issue for the White Female when you don’t feel remorse for your actions even though you have not been singled out, yet.

Just because you haven’t been caught (or reprimanded) yet does not mean you should keep doing it. While no culture is purely guilt or shame, but a combination of both, the East still tends to lead towards shame, while Western cultures will utilize guilt. We can all learn from each other, but be sure as the Asian Male to keep an open mind to your White Female. She is not there to make you feel ashamed of your faults; she wants you to be a better person.

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One Response to The Chrysanthemum and the Sword – Guilt & Shame

  1. Pingback: Another Scholastic Year Begins – Asian Educational Differences « AMWF Love

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