A Better Definition of Honor-Shame Cultures—”Connection”

How might we define “honor-shame cultures”?

Many people implicitly associate “honor-shame culture” with “violence.” Westerners perceive honor-shame cultures as aggressive and combative. This reason (proposed in my prior post) is because the Western mind perceives honor-based violence as “senseless” and “incomprehensible,” unlike the legalized violence of Western cultures.

A better definition of “honor-shame culture” would be “connection.” The reality that “everything is connected” offers a fruitful way to understand how honor-shame cultures actually work. The word connection means: link, relationship, interconnection, interdependence, bond, attachment, contact, friend, ally, relative.

The worldview of every culture must address three areas: identity, causality, and morality. Honor-shame cultures approach each worldview question through the prism of connection, an approach that is quite different than Western culture.

1. Identity: Who Am I?

Every culture must define the meaning of “human.” What is our fundamental basis of a person?

In honor-shame cultures, you are who you are connected to. It doesn’t matter what you know, but who you know. Life is about securing a network of connections and relationships. Children are identified by their parents’ name. Two people who just meet will try to establish some sort of family connection. Orphans, widows, and barren people endure a lower status because they don’t have family around them. Someone without family is a “nobody.” So to be a “somebody,” you have to be connected to other people.

Westerners find it offensive to define someone by their connection to other people. To stereotype, typecast, pigeonhole, or label someone is negative. We say that everyone is unique, so we should evaluate every person on their own merit. Humans are defined by individual rights and personal freedoms, not connections or obligations.

2. Causality: Why Do Things Happen?

Every worldview develops a sense of causality to explain why things happen.

Social psychologists have proven that people of collectivistic cultures view the world as a series of connections. Richard Nesbitt in The Geography of Thought explains the Asian approach to reasoning.

“Events do not occur in isolation from other events, but are always embedded in a meaningful whole in which the elements are constantly changing and rearranging themselves. To think about an object or event in isolation and apply abstract rules to it is to invite extreme and mistaken conclusions.”

Western culture separates and dichotomizes reality. The goal of scientific research is to isolate variables—to identify the individual cause of an issue. Westerners identify and explain all the rules that govern the natural world, not the relationships. 

3. Morality: What Should Happen?

Every culture must provide a moral system to guide social interactions. What should I do?

In honor-shame cultures, relationships define ethics. Maintaining the social order is the morally right thing to do. A person’s moral duty is to maintain relational connection with people. A person must give honor to whom honor is due. For example, at the heart of Confucian philosophy/ethics are 5 relationships: ruler-subject, father-son, husband-wife, elder-youth, and friend-friend. Disrupting the social web is sin. Breaking connection is immoral. Ethics is about proper relational connection.

Western morality is based on abstract, categorical rules. This means laws, whether divine or municipal, should govern society. All rules apply to all people at all times, regardless of circumstances, contexts, or relationships.


Reducing any culture to a single word admittedly oversimplifies reality. Nevertheless, “connection” offers a simple framework for explaining identity, causality, and morality in honor-shame cultures. Though “connection” does not explain everything in honor-shame cultures, I propose it is a better approach than “violence.”


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8 Comments on “A Better Definition of Honor-Shame Cultures—”Connection”

    • Lynn, I’m very interested in your research. How may I read it? I’ve been doing research on Bible storying in Taiwan through the CM extension center as well. Am ABD, and need new energy & insight to continue.

      • Anne,
        I have written a bit on this topic as a Counselor/Social Worker/Family Therapist. In fact, Glenn Francis has interesting insights regarding Shame and witnessing.

        Most of the writings I see on these links pertains to the Psychological/Social/Familial issues we face around the world, and it is very valuable. However, I have not seen it taken back to the beginning in Genesis 1-3 and how Shame is as much a part of Fallen Nature as Guilt, Rebellion, and Bondage. Until we find the original or first cause we cannot place the answer to Shame in Redemption and Sanctification. There is no redemption from Shame, Guilt, Rebellion, or Bondage in Psychology/ Sociology, or Family Therapy when Christ and the Spirit are left out.

        If interested I will my stuff to you.

        • Hi Gary,
          It has been a long time since I communicated with you, and don’t remember if I ever responded here.

          If your offer is still open, I’d absolutely love to receive your research and writings on Shame and Genesis 1-3. It’s vitally important for all of us!

          A young friend of mine is exploring integration in the counseling field. How have you dealt with that, in view of the basis in Gen 1-3?
          ps: I think you’re on the money with the bounded vs centered connection to rules vs relationships! Good thoughts!

      • Greeting, Anne. Hopefully the link above will help. If you search for the title through Proquest, you will be able to locate the dissertation. Blessings on you as you do your research! L Thigpen

        • Thanks, Lynn! Don’t know if we met in a previous CM class or not, but I’m walking right behind you in dissertation writing, with the same profs. I’m interested in if/how you coded on recordings in another language, and your process, as well as the issues SE Asia entails. Recently have been particularly sensitive to shame/honor issues, and am realizing it is probably because most of my life was spent in Asia. Appreciate you sharing!

  1. This is interesting. It is difficult to summarise this in a single article, but rules versus relationships is a healthy paradigm to consider to think. I wonder though whether this should be considered in terms of a mutual surrender to the pattern of the incarnation which favours a righteous relation to God as a proper and a humble approach in which west and east relate. If the western mind were only rule based and an honour-shame culture based only on relationship, no connection would in fact be possible. A right and just connection must surely be based on the relation of Jesus’ humility in coming among us as the Son of God.

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