Is a Shame Culture worse than a Guilt Culture?

I watched a Youtube video today, by Asian Boss about a Japanese Apology Agency, and it got me thinking about shame cultures and guilt cultures, and about which one is more destructive to a society as a whole, and the individual.

Before I watched the video, I thought that the purpose of the agency was to hire someone to give an apology for you. This was only partly true. It turned out that some customers who use the agency, actually want to make a sincere apology, but were too afraid to do it themselves.

But for other customers, they weren’t looking to make an apology. Instead, they were looking to sort of “erase” their wrongdoings from existence, by using an employee from the agency as a character who acted as a scapegoat to apologize and take the blame for the situation. The agency employee essentially plays a character who apologizes to someone on behalf of the customer. The agent ends up taking the responsibility for something that the customer did wrong.

This is the problem with shame cultures, and why I think shaming is harmful to society and the individual. In shame cultures, when an individual does something wrong, the INDIVIDUAL perceives themselves as inherently wrong, as if there is something wrong with them self, that cannot be changed. The individual is afraid of being shunned by others, afraid of being considered a “bad” individual.

In guilt cultures, when an individual does something wrong, it is the ACTION which is perceived as wrong. So an individual can ask for forgiveness, and intend to never make the same mistake. Forgiveness is the other person seeing that the individual has learned from their wrongdoings, and trusts that the individual has changed.

In a guilt culture, making a mistake is usually forgivable as long as you learn from it. Whereas in a shame culture, making a mistake leads to an individual perceiving themselves as “no good”, and thus why this industry exists. No one wants to be shunned and perceived as a bad person for life, so the solution here is to erase the wrongdoings from existence.

So what do you think is better for a society? An individual who makes a mistake, and then learns why their actions were wrong and apologizes (guilt)? Or an individual who makes a mistake, and hides it from others out of fear of being shunned (shame)?

This apology agency is an example of why shame is a heavier emotion than guilt. In the west, it’s common sense that we should take responsibility for our wrongdoings. It’s a part of growing up. But shame can override this because of fear of being perceived by others as “bad”. Shame restricts us and weighs us down from doing the right thing in this case.

Anyway, I’m not saying that shame culture is worse than a guilt culture, but I thought I’d share my two cents after seeing that video. I’m sure there are also ways in which a guilt culture is worse than a shame culture. But the point of this post is to simply point out a difference in culture that would create this kind of industry.

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