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How Culture Shapes Who We Are as People

The cultures established in our world typically have three different worldviews; shame-honor, guilt-innocence, and fear-power. This is how governments rule and how norms are set. All of us are affected by all three of these. It tends to be there are cultures around the world that have a dominant worldview. These worldviews dominate how we become citizens of a body and how we interact with people.

We are essentially born into these cultures without being given a choice. We don’t have a choice because we aren’t even aware that we are floating in these cultures. Almost like a fish swimming in the water that envelopes it. By not conforming to these worldviews we risk ostracizing ourselves from the rest of the population. It saddens me because I’ve come to realize we all have to be reborn in some way. When we are born, we are already set up for failure. That failure will only persist unless we take inventory of the perceptions that construct our being.


If you live in the Western world, as I do, you are more than familiar with our guilt culture. We are built on law and punishment. The United States of America is the great nation that brought us the acclaimed television show Cops. The guilt culture is essentially a culture that keeps people in check. It’s done through the usage of laws, policing, and punishment such as prison sentences.

This type of culture then seeps into every being of life. This could be in the form of job requirements and written reviews, classroom rules, and detention. At home, we call it house rules and time out. Instead of creating a society based on agreed-upon norms, we use rules. If the rules don’t fit an expectation of the ones in power, more rules are created. It’s also the place where we get our cancel culture. If someone does something against our morals, they are expected to lose just about everything as a form of punishment.

Most of us are met with guilt at a very young age by our parents. I will venture to say that our parents kept us in check by telling us what we couldn’t do. If we were to disobey, we were punished. More times than not we were never explained why the rule was set in place. We just knew that if we did the thing, we’d get in trouble. Or even worse, we’d be labeled as bad children. It’s not the fault of our parents because that was how they were raised, and the parents before them. There hasn’t been a way to remove ourselves from this relay race of guilt. No one has been able to call it out.

The innocence-guilt worldview is categorized by the notion that we do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing. Again, I can only reference the western world and my experiences. We were raised with a strong notion of what right and wrong are. This black-and-white notion becomes the essence of all that is wrong with who we become. We grow in the culture as we’ve already decided there’s no such thing as a grey area. Yet this idea of right and wrong is shown in our television, movies, religious sermons, classrooms, and many more places.

The innocence factor in this culture has nothing to do with who we are, but with what we do. I firmly believed that my productivity made me a divine person. I shouldn’t be treated like everyone else because the work that I did was always above expectations. The impact that I was showing was given. Review after review, I received high marks. I made the most of my opportunity. After much contemplation, it didn’t mean much. Yet, we live in a capitalistic society that’s built on the value of one’s productivity. Effort turns into riches, and riches turn into wealth. The wealthy believe they can get away with anything. Why should they? They’ve paid their dues.

The issue with the idea of right and wrong is that paralyzes us between duality. It can only be this or that. Looking back on my experience in computer science and realize that this is very logical thinking. It’s either this or that, there’s nothing in between. It creates a very limited perspective. People too far into this paradigm may seem closed-minded. If they stick to their ideas too closely, they may even come off as arrogant. Add my name to one of these people.

I always felt like my ideas were right and the opposition was wrong. Business books would be my primary consumption. I would then be puzzled as to why people would think in a way that was contrary to what I just read. It was a very destructive habit of talking people down as if they knew nothing. I thought I was right and they were wrong. There was no wiggle room.

I honestly want to blame school if I were, to be honest. Teaching and standardized testing made it feel like there was only one way of doing things. If you were to do something else, you were automatically incorrect. In particular my math classes. Going through arithmetic, later algebra, and calculus, I was taught that there was only one way to do something. It was always the way of the teacher. Even if I were to get the same answer, it was wrong. I didn’t follow the same steps as those who were teaching me. It’s a universal truth that there are many different ways to get to the same destination. That notion was never taught, at least to me.


While the western world is more inclined to follow a culture of guilt, the eastern world typically follows a culture of shame. I hate to tell stories of experiences outside of mine, so I’ll try to do so with the utmost respect. I have no problem if you check me on Twitter. Whereas the United States is very individualistic, the Middle East, South America, and Central and Southeast Asia are built on more collective ideals. One of the most prominent groups of people in this system is the family.

Any individualistic achievement is attributed to the group. I worked at a company that is Taiwanese-owned and very much had a collective culture. It conflicted with my individualistic mindset. I was irritated by the fact that my contributions were seen from the lens of the collective, especially when I was the one to do the work. I would look at individuals who weren’t pulling their weight and judge them. In truth, I think I had a hard time adjusting to this culture as my worldview was of guilt.

Just as good work reflects favorably on the group, missed expectations bring shame to the group. In this type of culture, the mindset is to do the things that maximize honor in the eyes of peers and minimize shame. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Asian countries were found to have the lowest cases of Covid-19. A good reason for this was the collective decision to wear masks. If you were to travel to Japan, every citizen would be found wearing a mask. There is nothing wrong with this action. The usage of a mask was instrumental in saving lives.

The dark side was the possible reason for everyone’s involvement. If a citizen decided not to wear a mask, they may have been shamed by the rest of the community. To not feel the heavy shadow of shame, not just for themselves, but also for their family, they wore masks. Not because wearing a mask could save a life, but because they wouldn’t want to be judged by others. It’s no different in my guilty society where we wear seatbelts and drive the speed limit, not because it’s safe, but because we don’t want to get a ticket.

The shame-honor mindset can start early with the requirement for good grades. Good grades are honorable. Failing grades brings shame. If a parent sees that a child is doing good things that bring honor to the family, you can find them bragging about their children to friends and other family members. If the child is on the other end of the spectrum, we’d expect the parent to sweep the dishonorable actions under the rug, while even trying to hide any consequences that resulted from the action. Let’s say that the child isn’t doing so well in school. To avoid shame, the child can result in cheating. Ironically, getting caught cheating can result in even more shame.

Another issue with shame culture is that people tend to be caught up in appearance to make people believe their actions are honorable. It’s a very big hole to sink into because human nature is pretty superficial and if a person is going to judge, appearance is the most notable thing. To reduce shame, it’s important to look at the part. If you’re going to be a manager at a corporation, it’s more important to look the part than it is to be a good manager. In our material world, we don’t necessarily have to be rich, we just have to look the part. If we wear the new Jordans or ride by in a fly car, no one is ever going to question the bank account. In this case, you are not considered honorable by who you are, but by what you have.

It’s dangerous when we start using someone’s speech and actions and making their characteristic traits. Just because one knows how to work for a crowd or can be charitable with their time, doesn’t necessarily mean they are honorable. We only judge from the outer actions that we see but aren’t familiar with people when they are alone or with strangers outside of the community. Honor is only created by the outward perception of others. Perceptions that are not real. It’s effortless to play the game of meeting and exceeding the expectations of others and still be poor in heart, especially if the only reason why the person is doing these great things is to be noticed within the community.


The last worldview we’ll take a look at is fear-power as it is typically the less common, but still very prevalent. The culture of fear and power is mostly associated with African and South American countries. I would say this dynamic can also be found in western countries along with the guilt-innocence worldview. The fear-power worldview practices a culture where power is dominant and fear is the biggest motivator. 

Again, the first observation of a fear-based culture can be seen in the home. I would venture to say that most parents rule through fear. They are the authority figure and the child is expected to obey the rules and words of their parents. Children are told their place within the hierarchy as beings that should be seen, but not heard. In exchange for this obedience, the parent reciprocates with what we think is love.

A good amount of our religion is based on this paradigm. I’m thinking about religion in the west, including the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Many of those who believe in God also believe that he’s an all-powerful, omnipotent being that will cast judgment on anyone who doesn’t follow His rules. If you do not follow his guidelines on earth expect to find yourself in the hottest oven known to us as hell. Go to any major event in Los Angeles, and I guarantee you’ll find at least one person with a sign telling the eventgoers that they are most likely going to hell. The same type of people can be found on stages wielding fear to gain control of perspective.

When you think about it, all of these worldviews are based on fear. They take outward perceptions and manipulate them for us to look and feel good about ourselves. It’s truly unfair to live in these types of cultures because most of us are unaware of them. Some of us are very much aware of how these worldviews make us feel but are unable to describe the abstract notions that are happening to them.

Why do we have to live here? Why isn’t there a class for us to learn about these unseen systems? We should be learning this at a young age. It only took me until my 30s to be aware of the unseen hand of culture. I look at my nephews a bit disheartened that they will probably go through the same things, feeling the fear, shame, and guilt that our culture provides, and not knowing how to put them into words. I hope I can be the one to at least help them become aware of the culture around them.