Shame

In an attempt to better understand some of the roots of the conflict in the middle east and further afield, I have been reading a book called ‘Touching the Soul of Islam’, by Bill Musk who worked for Church Mission Society, Interserve and others.
The following summary table outlines his understanding of some of the key differences between Western and Eastern cultures. It’s easy to see how some of these very fundamental differences lead to clashes of values, misunderstandings, fears and conflict.

I am particularly interested by the Western focus on ‘guilt’ which tends to relate to particular actions done or not done (‘sins of omission or commission’) as opposed to the Eastern focus on ‘shame’ which is more of a consciousness of something not right about the whole person. Shame is a very biblical concept, not surprising then, considering its Eastern roots.

In the course of speaking to people about the need for forgiveness, many people do not seem to consider their guilt particularly serious, especially in comparison to certain others who really have problems with bad behaviour! A greater focus on the holiness and loveliness and kindness of God, his awesome nature, will perhaps lead us to a sense of shame in relation to him – didn’t Job compare himself to a worm in the face of God? Shame humbles me to see my need to be restored to God, which goes way more than this or that sin needs forgiving, and to see that Christ in me is the only hope. If we ourselves or we’ve got friends, family or neighbours seeped in Easter culture, perhaps we could run this table by them and better understand some of our differences and what we in the West might need to learn afresh.

Table: East and West

Important Themes in Western Cultures Important Themes in Middle Eastern Cultures
‘Reality’ –centred conceptual framework ‘value’ –centred conceptual framework
Primacy of the individual Primacy of the ‘group’
Liberty to develop independent life Place in web of social relationships
Equality of the sexes Differentiation of the sexes
Task-oriented roles Gender-associated roles
Achievement due to self-effort Honour from variety of sources
Guilt: result of breaking law Shame: result of failing someone
Emphasis on youth Emphasis on age
Materialistic/humanistic in focus Theocentric/God-oriented in focus
Love matches lead to marriage Status matches negotiated for marriage
Rights of each individual paramount Duties towards family/clan paramount
Open-ended attitude to economics ‘limited good’ attitude to economics
Contract relationships important Oral/trust relationships important
Public and private worlds separate Public and private worlds integrated
Accumulation of private wealth lauded Generosity/hospitality on demand lauded
Future oriented Past oriented
Freedom-focused behaviour Status-focused behaviour
Personal preference primary Conventional appearance primary
Competition on basis of individual merit Advancement on basis of who-you-know