Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Perception of Morality and Determination of Meaning

Morality speaks of oughtness – how things ought to be, how life ought to be lived, how self ought to act, how others ought to act toward self, what is right behavior, what is wrong behavior, how is one to behave differently in different contexts, etc. It follows logically that one’s perception of morality affects how one determines meaning. To understand how perception of morality affects meaning one can examine the various dimensions of a particular culture and then proceed to analyze how that dimension determines in what way a person from that culture thinks, behaves in relationship with others, and views reality. For example, consider just one of the cultural dimensions – the dimension of guilt/righteousness versus shame/honor. Parenthetically, the point of this dimension (as well as the others) is not to communicate a stark contrast in which there is unequivocally no mixing of the two concepts, but rather to posit the general orientation cultures have toward one or the other model. Given that caveat, if one has grown up in a particular shame/honor oriented culture and has absorbed the accompanying metanarrative and worldview assumptions, life (and all meaning within that life) will be quite different for that individual than for someone immersed in a guilt/righteousness oriented culture. Flanders has written an entire book (actually a published copy of his dissertation) demonstrating and discussing the power and influence of “face” (shame) on a culture. Flanders notes how assumptions of meaning in the West (guilt/righteousness oriented) differ from Thai culture (shame/honor oriented). “The distinguishing mark of a shame culture is a dependence upon what others think. Conversely, it is not the perception of others that drives guilt culture but rather a person’s own internal moral compass, the individual conscience.”[1] He further notes that
The command associated with guilt would be something like, “Stop. What you have done is wrong and violates the standard or rule.” In contrast the command interpreted from the perspective of shame would be, “Stop. What you have done is wrong. You are no good.” As such, the shame command is more severe because it is more profoundly a statement about the self, not simply an action abstracted and isolated from the self.[2]
            This is only one example of how a single cultural dimension (perhaps better termed, “value dimension”) demonstrates that perception of morality (what is the proper code of conduct) affects meaning for adherents of a culture.

[1] Christopher L. Flanders, About Face (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2011), 58.
[2] Ibid., 62. 

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