Delving Deeper into the Honor/Shame Worldview

This is part two of a 4-part series on the Three Colors of Worldview. Links to the other articles are at the bottom.

In predominant Honor/Shame societies, the focus is on preserving and enhancing one’s honor and the honor of the group one belongs to and on avoiding to bringing shame on the group. Membership of the group can be through historical ties like being born into a tribe, clan, or by choice, e.g. by joining a fraternity, guild or brotherhood. When you bring shame on the group, the group itself will take action against you to restore its honor.

Communication, interpersonal interaction, and business dealings are very relationship-driven, with every interaction having an effect on the honor-shame status of the participants.

As a result, the honor/shame worldview by and large favors indirect communication. Indirect methods of communication like using a third person to convey a message, use of proverbs and stories help to convey a message without directly shaming the person and gives the recipient leeway to choose a response that maximizes his or her honor.

Relating to People with an Honor/Shame Worldview

People with a primary Honor/Shame worldview are usually relationship-driven and many times grew up in a group-oriented environment. The group is important, and the group has a fair amount of say about the behavior of the individual. If someone's behavior is inappropriate, the group will respond with measures like shunning that person, or heaping shame on him/her, or retaliating.

The question is not whether behavior is right or wrong, but whether one’s behavior reflects well on the group or brings it shame.

When one is shunned, reconciliation can happen. Many times a mediator, who is esteemed by both parties will be used to initiate and work out the details of reconciliation. In personal conflicts, reconciliation might happen by publicly praising the other person and/or exchanging gifts. Repentance and admission of wrong-doing are not always a necessity. Heaping honor and praise on the other person, or on the group is an important part of the process.

In your interactions, focus on building a relationship and getting to know the person before "doing business". Outward appearance matters, what others can see about you like dress-code and visible behavior is important and builds or diminishes the honor and reputation of the person you're interacting with and thus of the group he/she belongs to.

Because outward appearance is important, disciplining and correction (like in a teacher/student setting) is best done in private, where a person is freer to admit fault and doesn’t need to worry how the interaction reflects on his/her group.

Shifting Dynamics

Though everyone has a unique mix of primary worldviews, one can discern overarching worldviews and trends in societies and communities. The USA, for example, was always seen as an example of what an Innocence/Guilt worldview would look like (except for the “South”, which always had a stronger Honor/Shame influence), but that is slowly shifting and you can see that Millennials and gen-Z in the USA have more of Honor/Shame outlook in their worldview mix than “Baby Boomers”. 

Honor/Shame and the Christian Faith

Most of the history the Bible chronicles is of societies with a strong or dominant Honor/Shame worldview and a lot of the message of the Bible (Creation/Fall/Covenants/Redemption) is expressed in Honor/Shame language.

If we look at the story of the fall in Genesis 3, we see both positional shame and emotional shame as a result of Adam & Eve’s actions (eating of the forbidden fruit). Emotional shame showed in their self-awareness and their sudden awareness and embarresment of their nakedness. Positional shame showed in God's response, He banned them from his presence, from his community and from the garden of Eden. 

The law of Moses reiterates that position of shame, God reminded the Israelites of their uncleanliness before Him and their need to bring sacrifices and perform cleansing rituals even for events that weren’t sinful, like childbirth.

At the cross Jesus dealt with the problem of sin by being the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. He reconciled us with the Father and is the mediator of a new covenant in is blood. The solution for positional shame shows very much in our adoption into God's family and the honor that comes with that. 


This is part two of a 4-part series on the Three Colors of Worldview. Below are the links to the other articles.

If you want build your understanding of culture and worldviews, and your ability to relate better to people who are different, join us for a workshop or an e-Learning journey.

1. The Three Colors of Worldview

2. Delving Deeper into the Honor/Shame Worldview

3. Delving Deeper into the Innocence/Guilt Worldview

4. Delving Deeper into the Power/Fear Worldview

Published April 29th, 2019 

© 2019 n-Culture. The text of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License