People from this cultural background frequently ask themselves how they will be seen by others in their family, city, or community if they choose to think, feel, or do something they are considering. Families are very proud of how they are seen by their neighbors and relatives and this mindset or worldview is acculturated into children early.
In 1946, Ruth Benedict wrote an insightful book about Japanese culture entitled The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, and she made the distinction of the U.S. being a guilt culture and Japan being a shame culture. A Japanese student once recommended this book to one of our staff to help the staff member better understand Japanese students in the U.S.
The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (2014) by Jayson Georges is an excellent, readable, and brief explanation of all the cultural perspectives. I highly recommend it for everyone working with international students.
Each cultural perspective emphasizes several things to the exclusion or downplaying of others. For instance, in an honor-shame culture telling the truth is less important than saving face in the social situation. Saying “yes” when you have no intention of attending the event you were just invited to helps the person inviting you “save face.” It would hurt the person’s pride for you to publicly refuse to come to an event they so graciously invited you to. So, you say you will come when you have decided you will not go. You are being kind to the person who invited you. (Honest, this is true!)
Principles cited in this blog: Honor-shame cultures focus on appearances as a means of social harmony. Children are taught to meet expectations of the parent’s cultural norms. Fear of ostracism is a means of gaining behavioral compliance. Saving face—your own and other’s—is a key concept to learn about.
Application for ISI ministry: Insight into an international student’s cultural background can help us understand why they do what they do and how they relate to failure. Because each person is unique, it is good to dialogue about these issues with students you know. While in the U.S. ask the student to learn and abide by American cultural values when dealing with social interactions with Americans.
Next blog topic: Understanding power-fear cultures specifically
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson