"Some things you must always be unable to bear. Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. Not for kudos and not for cash: your picture in the paper nor money in the bank either. Just refuse to bear them."
- William Faulkner, Intruder In The Dust -
In his introduction to the book "Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society", J. G. Peristiany claimed that honour and shame dominate "small scale, exclusive societies where face to face personal, as opposed to anonymous, relations are of paramount importance and where the social personality of the actor is as significant as his office".
Even though Peristiany’s book - that included papers of famous historians and anthropologists such as Julian Pitt-Rivers, Pierre Bourdieu (authors of studies on Andalusian, Cypriot, and Algerian peasants), J. K. Campbell, and Ahmed Abou-Zeid (who conducted their research among Greek and Bedouin shepherds) - focused exclusively on the Mediterranean region, it must be noted, however, that certain dynamics and behavioral patterns are common to most honor-based societies across the world (honor-shame cultures can be found in Latin America, in Southern Asia, in Eastern Europe, in Latin Europe, in the Middle East, and in the South of the United States):
- honor cultures tend to be hierarchical and collectivist in nature (in-group collectivism: the whole family/clan is responsible for the honor of the individual);
- individuals in a high social position are expected to "behave their status", as the opinion of others matter (appearances are paramount in order to preserve honor and respectability) and honor - just like face - can be given and taken away by others;
- social norms condone - to some extent - the use of violence to defend rights and properties, as in honor cultures insults are a way to determine who can do what to whom (with regard to this last point, it’s important to remember that, as highlighted in a previous post, "Honor cultures developed in regions with herding economies and low population density. In environments where poaching posed a concrete threat to one’s wealth, and in the absence of a strong central authority that could offer protection and support to citizens, individuals were expected to protect themselves, their families, and their belongings". On a related note, in his study "Honour, Family and Patronage" on the social dynamics of the Sarakatsani shepherds in Greece, conducted around the mid 50’s, J. K. Campbell observed that "Sarakatsani were deeply concerned about three things: sheep, children (particularly sons), and honour. The sheep support the life and prestige of the family, the sons serve the flocks and protect the honour of their parents and sisters, and the notion of honour presupposes physical and moral capacities that fit the shepherds for the hard and sometimes dangerous work of following and protecting their animals").
In light of the above, it might be easy to understand why forgiveness is not easily granted in cultures of honor: while in dignity/guilt cultures (typical of Northern European countries and the North of the United States) self-worth is linked to autonomy and self-interest and one’s own value is not determined by goals and expectations dictated by the group, and in shame/face cultures (such as those found in the Confucian Asia cluster) forgiveness is a tool to restore closeness and group harmony, in honor-shame cultures forgiveness might be seen as a threat to one’s reputation, and retaliation might be the expected response to offences and disrespect ("Men in cultures of honor more readily perceive personal affronts than men in non-honor cultures, even when those perceptions might be inaccurate. Retributive aggression is especially likely when the initial behavior is perceived as a moral transgression: men may therefore perceive rude treatment from a coworker as deserving of punishment to help restore the balance of justice and their social status" - Miner and Smittick, 2016).
It is important to note that while forgiveness in a cross-cultural context has mainly been studied in correlation with (Western) individualistic or (Eastern) collectivist behavior (collectivist cultures tend to emphasize decisional forgiveness, while individualistic cultures are more likely to practice emotional forgiveness), research on forgiveness in honor-based collectivist societies (that include the Mediterranean region, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa) is generally scarce. A study on the implications of honor, modesty, or self-enhancement for the survey response process suggests that "understanding Confucian-based collectivism is not sufficient for survey researchers conducting studies elsewhere", as "within a culture of honor, the central collective dimension is maintaining a good reputation" (in Confucian-based collectivist societies, on the other hand, the priority is to behave modestly in order to preserve harmony within the group), and "honor based collectivism does not highlight modesty but rather emphasizes the public nature of self-worth and the need to protect and maintain honor through positive presentation of oneself and in-group members". This means that while East Asians choose to forgive because the collective good is more important than personal well-being, members of honor-based cultures may associate forgiveness with a loss of reputation ("In honor-based collective societies, reputation matters, and reputation is a social construct that includes the esteem to which one’s group is held, not simply personal attainments. Thus, in honor-based societies, positive evaluation of one’s in-group is quite critical."). The study does also highlight the fact that "in honor cultures the way to maintain to positive relations is through a norm of positive representation of the self and in-group and negative representation of out-groups".
- Peristiany, J. G. (1966). "Honour and shame: The values of Mediterranean society". Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Campbell, J. K. (1964). "Honour, family and patronage: a study of institutions and moral values in a Greek mountain community". Oxford: Clarendon Press
- Miner, Kathi & Smittick, Amber. (2016). "Workplace incivility, culture of honor, and aggression: Precarious manhood and the demoralized male". Culture, Society, and Masculinities
- Uskul, A. K., Oyserman, D., & Schwarz, N. (2010). "Cultural emphasis on honor, modesty, or self-enhancement: Implications for the survey-response process". In J. A. Harkness, M. Braun, B. Edwards, T. P. Johnson, L. Lyberg, P. P. Mohler, B.-E. Pennell, & T. W. Smith (Eds.), Wiley series in survey methodology. Survey methods in multinational, multiregional, and multicultural contexts (p. 191–201). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470609927.ch11
- Hofstede, Geert H. (1997). "Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (second ed.)". New York: McGraw-Hill
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