‘public moral outrage is not always aimed at reforming a specific offender. The goal might be solidarity with a victim, group or cause, and shifting cultural values in anyone witnessing the outrage.
“The person who has done the offense, say, Harvey Weinstein or Cuomo, may be a lost cause. But, by making him an example, it sets the standards for our society. Moral codes. What is acceptable and non-acceptable behavior.”
‘Feldman Barrett’s research has dug deep into the specific cultural context where emotions play out. She rejects the popular notion that feelings of guilt are universally healthier than shame, calling this a “very Western view.” Instead, she says shame means something different in more collectivist societies, like those found in the East, versus individualist cultures in the West. “The American way tends to be: ‘You’re a piece of s— for what you did. You should feel really bad about what you said, maybe to the point of being worthless,’” Feldman Barrett says. “I think the way that shame is wielded right now in this American way is meant to punish.”
By contrast, shame in some cultures — like in Japan, Taiwan or some parts of Africa — is not about blame or punishment. In Taiwan, according to a 2019 paper in Frontiers in Psychology, children are often shamed as an expression of love and moral guidance. “It’s about connection, and repairing and honoring a relationship,” Feldman Barrett says.
Some research shows that collective anger can also be a unifying and effective force for systemic change. Outrage may even be necessary, suggests Victoria Spring, a postdoc fellow studying moral emotions at New York University.
“Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were both angry about racism. Gandhi was angry about British imperialism in India,” Spring says. “All of them were outraged about injustice, and they were able to transform that into activism.” King even made a call to “awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor” in his 1957 speech, “The Power of Nonviolence,” as a means to reconcile with them. Spring highlighted collective action as one common outcome of outrage in a 2018 paper published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences.’
There is ‘Culture’, but there is You.
‘You grow up trapped in the expectations of others (parents, friends, classmates, etc.) and then You transition to the working world where the expectations from peers, bosses, and others often close tighter around You. We’re used to trying to fit in as we’re bombarded by cultural norms.
One path to understand culture is to understand the culture battlefield in our mind. Eckart Tolle said, “there is nothing that shows up that is not teaching you something.” What’s driving your thinking and emotions? Where do you sense yourself jumping to a conclusion about others or listening to the self-critical voice in your head? By definition, culture is a group thing, but we can start understanding it by understanding ourselves and the beliefs we hold that others may share.
If you change your mindset, it can reduce judgmental inclinations as curiosity takes over with a consistent effort to learn. It is possible to reframe the world to make sense of it as you use the lens of culture. Courage, disciplined action and the love of others are all necessary to make the most of what you learn.
It takes Courage!
“Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous or honest.”
‘A growing appreciation and understanding of culture is of little use without translating it into action. As your knowledge about culture grows, it’s like you have your hand on the rudder of a boat and can have a magnified impact on results.
We learn who we are and what we are capable of through the courage to take the initiative. Courage with culture-related change takes many forms – asking questions, listening, reflecting, involving others, raising a concern, asking for feedback, empowering others, problem-solving, and taking action or not.
The culture change agent will proactively make something happen when everyone else is knowingly or unknowingly preserving the status quo. There is an inherent risk in cutting against the cultural grain, and you will be judged or even punished. It’s essential to be intentional as you reflect, learn, and take action in groups instead of trying to be a maverick.’
‘Expect the pushback and roadblocks. You will likely feel like Sisyphus rolling a boulder uphill only to see it roll back down the hill time and time again.
Work through the frustration that will inevitably come by trying anything new and significant. Culture can play out in irrational and unreasonable ways. Don’t expect constructive behavior and approaches to be rewarded. As you encounter obstacles, learn from the inner debate in your mind as you think through approaches to build relationships and take constructive action. You will be tempted to vent your frustration and “go negative,” but doing so rarely pays off. Deliberate, consistent, and constructive action with others is far more likely to be effective.
You need rock-solid perseverance and tenacity grounded in thoughtful action with groups. It is possible to design change efforts to guarantee learning through disciplined cycles of planning, improvement, collective reflection, and refinement of plans.’
“life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”
‘This culture change lesson is about “you,” but the motivation and relentless internal drive must be to help others. The belief in yourself will carry you forward as you see the possibilities to make a difference with others.’
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Resources: Learn more about effective culture-related change by referring to our recently updated version of the 90-Day Culture and Performance Quick Start Program or attend our Culture Accreditation Workshop.
1 Quinn, R.E., 1996. Deep Change – Discovering the Leader Within, San Fransisco: Jossey Bass
2 Lafferty, J. C., 2013. Life Styles InventoryTM Self-Development Guide