Friday, December 18, 2015

Cultures of Shame

Of the three characteristics of culture, guilt, fear and shame, the latter fascinates me the most.  Shame cultures are most dominant in many of the places I work in  Asia and some parts of Africa. 

I just finished reading Shame, by  Jasvinder Sanghera, her story, who at the age of 15 rebelled against her parents who had arranged her marriage to an older man who she had never met.  Running away with a low caste boy, she was ostracized the rest of her life because she had brought shame to her Sikh family living in England.  Jasvinder’s story gives insight on how shame cultures control the lives of the community, be they Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist.  Jasvinder’s story brings to light shame based violence that is still quite prevalent in many parts of the world.

The author’s story is brutally honest and in my culture, where vulnerability is seen as weakness, I was intrigued with her openness, not only about the Sikh community but also her own personal failings.  The sub-plot is a person who was looking for love in all the wrong places. 

As a westerner working in shame cultures I learned a long time ago that the primary reason people do not listen to the message of Christ, much less embrace the Gospel, is not because they reject merits of Jesus, but because they are forbidden to as a community to entertain any notion of faith beyond their own.  To become a Christian would be as shameful as to marry someone of a different caste.  Jasvinder’s six sisters dutifully accepted the arranged marriages of their “mum,” even though it was not their choice.  They accepted the abuse of their husbands and husband’s family so that they would not bring shame on the family or community.  To become a follower of Christ would bring about the exact results. 

A strength overused can become a weakness.  The strength of collective society like the Sikhs has many advantages over individualistic societies, like America, where the breakdown of community and family has led to their own path of looking for love in all the wrong places.  The weakness of collective societies is they become isolated and closed.  To anyone working among shame cultures I recommend this book.  Not only will it give insights of the community they may serve, it will help in knowing the struggles they face in many areas of their life.