A Lesson on Honor & Shame

I was dreaming last night, and, as I have said before, I usually don’t remember my dreams.  But, when I do remember what was going on, I can wake up and re-start the dream if I keep my mind focused on it.  That’s what happened this morning.  I was dreaming randomly about a strange situation, and that situation illustrated something that, until this morning, had felt impossible to explain: Honor and shame.

Here’s the dream (it’s short): There’s this kid I know, his name is Brandon, and I used to be his caseworker (that’s real…not part of the dream). The last conversation I had with him was in LaSalle County Jail.  For some reason, Brandon stopped by my house to ask me to sign a petition.  Surprised at his presence, I immediately asked Brandon how he was doing and how his family was.  Brandon, smug, smirked and said “Things are good”, in his typical gangster drawl (not natural for a kid from Oglesby).  Realizing he was on a mission, I grabbed the pen and mindlessly put it to the paper.  Then I realized what the petition was for: to require people to carry armed handguns in public (random, I know).  If you know anything about me, you know I don’t believe that guns are good for society.  I’m patently pacifistic.  I paused, and thought about the situation.  Knowing Brandon and our relationship, as a quasi-mentor-like relationship, I wondered what I should do.  Do I take this as an opportunity to teach Brandon about the dangers of an armed public, about how I don’t believe that violence or aggression are answers for society?  Or, against my conscience, do I sign the petition in order to support what seemed like a positive-ish action he was taking?  He seemed to be genuinely concerned with political activism, and for Brandon, that’s a positive use of his energy, regardless of what he is trying to change.

Then I woke up.  Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to stay in bed (thanks to my kids), and I was unable to finish the interaction.  But, it stuck with me.  What was the ‘right’ thing to do in the situation?

But that’s not really the question.  I was faced with an honor/shame situation: Do I honor Brandon by signing the petition, or do I shame him by turning him away?

America, and most of the Western world, is based upon a right/wrong, black/white mentality.  Things are either right, or they are wrong.  From within this framework, the right thing to do would be to turn Brandon away.  The right thing to do would be to stand up for what I believe in.  The wrong thing to do would be to lie to Brandon and myself by signing and making Brandon feel good.

Much of the Eastern world is based upon an honor/shame mentality.  The question isn’t, “What is the right thing to do?”, but, “What is the most honorable action I can take towards the other?”  This mentality is based upon avoiding shaming someone else.  When shame happens, honor needs to be restored in some way.  That’s not an easy thing to do.

Can you relate to this kind of a situation?  Have you ever acted against your Western conscience in order to maintain a positive relationship with someone?  If so, you, even though you are likely a right/wrong person, acted instead under an honor/shame framework.

Relationships are like that more than we think.  We tell what we call ‘white lies’, those things we say that we don’t believe in order to maintain the relationship.

Do I look fat in this?

Did my speech make sense?

How did I do?

Sometimes, honesty isn’t always best (even though I still think honesty is always best, because I’m a right/wrong person).  If I could have re-entered that dream, I’m not sure what I would have done.  But, for some reason, that dream gave me pause, made me think, and made me imagine a scenario in which I would honor someone over telling them the truth.


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