Guilt and Shame: a guest viewpoint by Charles Hampden-Turner

A common distinction made by anthropologists is between a guilt culture common in the West, and a shame culture, typical of China. In a guilt culture, the individual breaks a universal law or rule, and feels guilty as a result. Any regret tends to be private and the pressures are not strong. 

In a shame culture, the community confronts particular persons and makes them feel ashamed of having endangered the lives of those who are now reproaching them. Their angry stares make those persons who were careless “lose face” for not considering other people. The pressure can be very strong indeed and may be much more effective in getting that person to comply with social norms. In the West the police may fine you for not obeying a law or following instructions, but is it not more telling to have the persons you endangered, look you in the eye?     

Charles Hampden-Turner is a British management philosopher, and Senior Research Associate at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge since 1990. He is the co-founder and Director of Research and Development at the Trompenaars-Hampden-Turner Group, in Amsterdam.