My oldest son and I were having a conversation recently that has sparked some questions for me. I don’t remember exactly why we were talking about this, but I think it was in response to a news report on the radio. I know we were in the car, just the two of us, which seems to be a really good place for us to talk.
The conversation was around the different conception of honor that is typically held by the Western world and the Eastern world. Matthew spent some time in the Middle East last year and has a deep love for the people and appreciation for the their culture. In our conversation, we were talking about the difficulties surrounding negotiation and diplomacy when East meets West, and why the Western version of democracy and freedom don’t translate so well to these cultures.
Basically speaking, the Western view of honor is based on truth, the Eastern view of honor is based on face. That is not to say there is no cross-over, no value for the other view on either side, just that the primary view of each rules over whatever mix there might be. For us in the West, acting honorably requires truth to be held above all else. For instance, when we go into court, what is that we are required to vow? To tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As Matthew explained to me, in the Eastern cultures, truth does not reign supreme, their basis of honor is in saving face and not shaming the family name. If one is accused of wrong-doing, it is expected that you will deny it to the death, even if that means a literal death. Therefore, suicide is more honorable than admitting guilt.
For me, that sheds light on many relational issues in my own life. As I have been thinking and mulling over the people with whom I have the most difficulty living in peace, it has occurred to me that perhaps that difference is deeper than culture, deeper than East vs West. I think it is deeply personal and individualistic.
The very word honor is thrown around a lot. There is a great deal of conflict surrounding the meaning of that word. In my life, this question of honor has broken up marriages, driven wedges between some of my kids and me, and been a source of misunderstanding and disagreement. I think maybe I understand why a little better now. The need to save face was greater than the need for truth. And for me, that brings a lot of conflict.
So, I am wondering about the role of honor, the core meaning of honor, personality, and the conflict the differences cause both between and within culture. Suppose, as I suggested earlier, the view of honor is far more fundamental than culture. Suppose it is ingrained in the very depths of our beings, as part of our basic personalities, right from birth. And then suppose you have a person whose natural view of honor is for truth and that person grows up in Japan or China or in an Arabic culture. There would be a great deal of conflict for that person on multiple levels. He or she would desire to demonstrate truth and receive truth in relationships, in work environments, in community. But the majority of others would not understand, and the cultural norms would label that one a traitor, an embarrassment, and many would view their behavior as shameful.
Again, suppose a person in born with the natural view of honor to save face, but that person grows up here in the US. That person would also face misunderstanding and accusations of betrayal and deception, as he or she sought to honor his or herself or the family reputation or the community by what looked to others like covering up the truth or lying or putting up a facade. They would be following their internal voice for honor, but others would not understand and would likely ostracize them.
This could very well be frequent dilemma in either case. I think perhaps I am seeing it in my life, with multiple relationships. And I am not at all certain what is to be done about it. I honestly don’t think it is an issue of eternal weight. If, as I am thinking is the case, it is a matter of our natural being, this is not an either/or issue, but rather a both/and fact of humanity. But the question I see as most important is this: How do two people live together in harmony if they are not on the same page in their view of honor? Honor is one of the essentials in relationship. And if two people are not seeking or living out the same thing in honoring one another or seeing themselves as being honored by the other, much conflict is sure to be had.
I am certain there is a way. I am not aware of what that way might look like. We certainly don’t see successful means of negotiating between nations who are either side of the question of honor, or of corporations, or communities that interact often. But what about individuals? Surely there must be couples, family members, friends, or business associates out there who have found a way to make relationships work, without conflict being the overwhelming norm.
Paradox is often the norm when it comes to God and faith, the two sides of the same coin as it were. I am thinking this is one of those paradoxes. If both views of honor exist as norms, then neither one is right or wrong, they are both true and have their roles and provisions for all of humanity.
I am seeking understanding. I am wondering. What do you think? Do you have any experiences you could relate?
I would love to hear from you!