Full Transcript of Episode 17: Factors Shaping American Worldviews
Lizette Beard: [00:00] Podcasting from Nashville, Tennessee, this is “Keep Asking,” the weekly podcast that helps you dive in a bit deeper and wider into the research providing insights into today’s church and culture.
[00:07] I want to say welcome back to everyone who is tuning in to hear the dulcet tones of our voices today. I’m Lizette Beard and I’m here with my co‑hosts Scott McConnell and Casey Oliver. Today we’re talking about some recent research on worldviews. Specifically, one of the ones is honor and shame.
[00:51] Speaking of honor and shame guys, now that we’ve gotten several of these podcasts up and going, tell me how fun it is for each of you to hear your recorded voice when you play back the podcasts.
Scott McConnell: [01:03] It never quite sounds like you imagine it.
Casey Oliver: [01:06] At one point Lizette said, “I think we all have stuttering problems.”
Casey: [01:12] I don’t know what to do with that information.
Lizette: [01:17] I think I said speech impediments.
Casey: [01:18] OK, fair enough.
Lizette: [01:19] When you’re listening to it and then reading the transcript, it was a little traumatizing. If you notice, we found a great service that edits our transcripts, so sometimes they don’t read exactly. They read a little bit more flowy. I don’t know that I wanted Casey to bring that up. How do you like hearing your own voice?
Scott: [01:44] It gets old in a hurry.
Lizette: [01:47] Yeah. I found that it was pretty painful to listen to the first four. If someone had said, “Hey, do you want to quit the podcast?” I would have been OK with it. But we have some great folks here, luckily…
Scott: [02:02] Here we are.
Lizette: [02:03] who are helping us learn how to do this a little bit better. We appreciate our listeners for hanging in there or jumping in when they knew it was getting better, either way.
[02:14] This worldview topic, Scott, it’s become increasingly important subject for you. It seems like we’ve talked about it on several different occasions over the past year or so. What is it about these concepts that has bubbled up or become important for you to want to pursue this in some of our research?
Scott: [02:32] I think there’s a couple things that are going on in the American culture that bring this to the surface. One is we’ve always been a nation of immigrants, but because immigration has increased in the last couple decades, there are a lot of people in our American culture today that were born in another culture, and that culture is different.
[02:56] It’s not just a language, it’s not just different foods that they eat, but actually how they approach things, what they think is good, and what they think is right. The best decisions to make are influenced by that worldview. That’s something that’s deep down inside of them. There’s not a right and a wrong to that.
[03:19] In fact, it’s a very American guilt‑innocence worldview that makes us jump right to that question of, “Are some of those wrong?” No, they’re just natural. That’s the way they’ve grown up, and it’s something that’s been embedded in them throughout their whole lives.
Lizette: [03:38] All right. Any big findings? What stood out as the most significant or most important thing we’d want our listeners to pay attention to?
Casey: [03:54] When Scott brought up the different cultural contexts, we think of America, Western society, as sort of that guilt‑innocence culture. But even among Americans, when we ask, “Which of these feelings do you seek to avoid the most?” we’re asking guilt, fear, or shame, and 31 percent say guilt, 30 percent fear, 38 percent shame. Shame was still the number one, and there’s a pretty even split between people who are trying to avoid each of those the most.
Lizette: [04:24] I didn’t check this out, but I’m going to put you on the spot or look it up. Was there an age difference? Was there anything that separated these out by age?
Casey: [04:35] I don’t have it in front of me, but I remember specifically that it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I expected the young people to be, by far, the highest in the shame category. We talk about Internet shaming and we talk about that re‑introducing itself into Western culture. But I remember it wasn’t as tidy ‑‑ research never is ‑‑ of that story or narrative.
[04:56] It looks like Scott has it.
Scott: [04:57] No, it turns out they were higher in the guilt category. Definitely, we put guilt trips on kids as they grow up. But you’re right. In addition to immigration, another reason why we wanted to hit this topic is that it does feel like the American culture’s shifting from being simply only focused on who’s right and who’s wrong, guilt‑innocence, to a lot more shame popping in.
[05:24] As Casey mentioned, the place we see that the most is in social media, where very quickly people will jump on and indicate whether that behavior, that activity, that picture is OK or not. Is that cool or not? We’re in your set of friends, and is that acceptable behavior to be one of us?
Lizette: [05:48] Do you think it’s because they’re so exposed, they’re maybe becoming numb or less impacted by shame?
Scott: [05:57] I’m not exactly sure of the motivation. Obviously, we have elements of that shaming mechanism. One of the books we had to read in high school was “The Scarlet Letter.” Here’s Puritans, clear back in the beginning of American culture. That was something that they did to say, “That behavior has brought shame on not just you, but our whole society.”
[06:25] That’s something that’s happened for a long time, and we continue to see it today, especially among Christians, seeing them jump on and say, “What you just did is not acceptable in our group.”
Casey: [06:36] I’ve actually really loved, as I was preparing for this podcast and even just over the last month, seeing this discussed in various blog posts and everything like that. I feel like I’ve had a lot of opportunities to say, “Oh, this is…”
[06:49] I think sometimes we’re thinking, “Oh, this is something,” like, “Here’s another worldview perspective,” being able to see that through the Bible or being able to see that in terms of Gospel presentation, how that influences, “Well, how would you meet somebody in that cultural context and best minister to them?”
[07:12] One of the things that is interesting to me about that is that it’s not like we’re trying to find a way to make the Bible relatable to them. It’s almost the opposite. Their cultural context is probably closer to a lot of the Biblical writers’ cultural context, in terms of not the individualism, legal perspective.
[07:29] Then, as I was going through that, and having people point out, “Well, we kind of see that all throughout scripture,” that idea like Adam and Eve, after they sinned, it went from them being naked and unashamed to now there’s that shame that comes in, along with the fall.
[07:43] I think it’s been neat to be able to take a step back. I know for a lot of our listeners, maybe some of them have thought about this a lot more already, because they’re in a different place. For me personally to be able to see how present that is in the Gospel narrative, that worldview, as well, in terms of what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
Scott: [08:05] There are a number of different frameworks for worldview. This particular one is one that fits historically, especially in the biblical narrative. Adam and Eve responded to their first sin by running away, so there was some fear. They’re hiding. That’s the shame element. Definitely, as they began their conversation with God, they were denying what had happened, which was their response to the guilt they were feeling.
[08:37] My thinking on this has definitely been influenced by an author named Roland Muller and his book “The Messenger, the Message, and the Community.” I think there is a lot of discussion, probably about shame and honor the most, because there are so many cultures around the world where that is the predominant worldview.
[09:01] As that begins to infiltrate into American thinking, how we present the Gospel, as Casey was saying, and even how we try to get along with our neighbors is very much influenced by, “Can we walk a mile in their shoes?” That means we’ve got to think through some of the issues of our day the way they’re thinking through them.
[09:25] Again, there’s not a right and wrong to think about your group of friends and family first, before you think about yourself. Our worldview in America has been so individualistic that we just assume it’s going to be focused on me. But sometimes the reason somebody’s doing something is for that good of that group. Even though we might say some piece of their behavior was wrong, it crossed a line individually, it helped the group, and so it’s OK.
Lizette: [09:58] You were talking a book. One that I’ve mentioned to you, Duane Elmer and his book on cross‑cultural conflict talks about how the Western style of addressing conflict is we really celebrate a very direct manner. The spectrum that most Westerners will see is very direct, or a complete withdrawal, like I’m just going to be passive‑aggressive and not do anything.
[10:31] I think he has a phrase “carefronting”, where it’s still very direct but it’s more gracious. People will typically land on that, “Oh, that’s the ideal.” What ties in with this, is that there’re perspectives of how other cultures do conflict management that are outside of that whole direct interaction ‑‑ either complete withdrawal or complete confrontation.
[10:58] There’s using a mediator, or gift‑giving, or some different things that are regular practices in leadership and cross‑cultural conflict, that get you thinking, “Oh, sometimes I just have a very narrow…How direct am I supposed to be?” Sometimes when I’m in a situation, it’s how direct or how indirect, and there’s other ways to handle that. What else did you guys pick up on this?
Casey: [11:34] We talked about the age perspective wasn’t as clear delineation as you might have expected going to it. I do think we saw some trends there that maybe were more expected. People from other religions ‑‑ not Christians, not the nones, not atheist, agnostic, no religious preference ‑‑ people in other religions are more likely to select shame.
[11:54] 48 percent of those people said shame. Again, how our value systems inform what we’re thinking about in terms of what we’re trying to avoid, I thought that was compelling.
Scott: [12:06] When we asked the question a little differently and asked about their desires in life, we see that the largest group of Americans is definitely focused on themselves, their desire for personal freedom. 40 percent of Americans gravitate toward that.
[12:22] When we give them two different alternatives, almost a third desire respect, and that element of you wanting to be honored, wanting to bring honor to others, comes through for almost a third of Americans. We see a little more than a quarter of Americans really having a desire in their life to overcome some of the things that are stacked against them.
[12:48] We see that that shine through in a lot of different settings, whether it’s the sports player that makes it from a rough beginnings in their life to multi‑millionaire. The rags‑to‑riches story is one that we always latch onto.
[13:07] The reality is, there are a lot of people in the American culture who have a lot to overcome, whether it be economic, whether it be educational, whether it be some injustices that are holding them back.
[13:19] There are a lot of people where that’s their mode of thinking on a daily basis. If that’s where somebody’s at, when we go to try to serve them with a ministry, if we’re not thinking that way, then even how we describe a problem, it is probably not going to relate to them.
[13:37] As we go to help, as we go to serve, as we go to try to build solutions together, as a ministry, if we’re not thinking the way they think and walking in their shoes, we’re not going to connect with them.
Lizette: [13:52] What I like about how you just talked about that…I was going to go a different direction on this. One of my pet peeves, which I have a few, we’re not going to dwell on a bunch of those, but I don’t particularly enjoy when people will teach something as if it’s a biblical truth, but it really only works in upper middle‑class America.
[14:21] I think, just as you were talking, I thought, if someone’s presenting an idea of principle, these are good filters to think about if you’re casting an idea, a sermon, a lesson. That doesn’t mean you have to stop thinking about what’s most important to you. If you think about just the spiritual truth, how does that speak to the people in here?
[14:45] These can be very subjective, these can be caused by either…My instinct is that these can be cultural. It seems more American have the desire for personal freedom, even though we had plenty of Americans choose the others. I know from living in Ivory Coast, that’s just not something you heard people talk about a lot.
[15:08] This personal freedom, people who were very successful were not trying to get away or separate. They were taking on more responsibility, typically. The concept of solidarity was very strong, but I think if we’re just thinking as Americans, if we’re trying to think about how other people even in our own company are thinking or having a different perspective, I like these as a filter.
Casey: [15:44] Because they’re all still present even, that’s what we see in our society as well.
Lizette: [15:51] Yeah, I would have guessed the personal freedom would have been higher. I would probably expected it closer to 60 percent. That’s just kind of making it up.
Scott: [16:04] Which is what we do as statistics…
Lizette: [16:06] No!
Scott: [16:09] No, not us.
[16:14] To me, what we don’t talk about very often is this worldview of fear and power. Often, it’s used to describe cultures where there’s a lot more belief in spirits and in spiritual forces and things like that. In American culture where we tend to be overly rational about everything, there are not a lot of discussions about that.
[16:38] We may jokingly reference to some bad juju somewhere, but there’re not a lot of people whose whole life is controlled by those fears of spirits and things out there. At the same time, fear can manifest itself in other ways in our culture. Some of that can depend on where you live.
[16:57] It can depend on some of those outside forces that might be more physical, might be more tangible, whether it be a gang, or whether it be a bully, or whether it be the big monopoly corporation that’s controlling your life, or controlling the things in your community.
[17:18] There are a lot of people driven by that. We saw in the last election, we saw a lot of politicians appealing to those fears because they knew that was the way people were thinking, about the way they were approaching some of the issues in our society today.
Lizette: [17:34] Again, bringing up…Maybe I just want everyone to know I was a missionary in Africa and that I’ll get bonus points but I remember noticing that. Again, that personal freedom, that independence that is so strong in our culture, yet comparatively, the spiritual sensitivity, spiritual forces, and talking to evangelical believers, I knew they were believers, so we would share so many same beliefs, view of the Bible, but there was spiritual sensitivity and spiritual awareness.
[18:18] They were using terms that were perfectly fine, but their sensitivity, their awareness of what is happening was beyond what I could really…even living there two years, I just could not mentally or spiritually become that in‑tune or connect at that same level. It’s just not where I came from.
[18:41] What stood out is, at times, you can be skeptical or you can say, “Well, this is really controlling.” At the same time I was observing, you don’t see people experiencing loneliness. Even through really difficult times, depression is not…people could be sad, but not that isolated.
[19:13] I remember there was a gal in the church I went to that nobody liked. Yet, everybody was one of her bridesmaids, because that’s what you did at that church. When someone got married, everybody was a bridesmaid. When she got married…and there were lots of reasons not to like her, but the girls totally were just there.
[19:35] That’s what you do when someone gets married. You put on the dress, you serve the food, you do all of this. I thought, “There’s a lot of comfort there,” going back to the solidarity. Thinking about the different perspectives ‑‑ that was a little bit of a tangent ‑‑ how jarring it is when you’re looking at there are other things driving how other cultures are thinking.
Scott: [20:02] The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ addresses all of these. He removes our fear. He covers our shame. Again, that’s both individual and collective shame that sin has brought on mankind. Thankfully, He removes our individual guilt, as well.
[20:24] I think, as we try to relate to those around us and understand how they’re approaching the issues of our day, hopefully our dialog will be more healthy. Hopefully, our ability to share the Gospel and to minister to them will be more effective.
Lizette: [20:40] I want to recommend another resource. I mentioned this in another podcast about the Heath brothers. They also have a book called “Decisive” and in decision‑making. They have some steps. Again, this is a secular book. I’m not trying to superimpose this over the Bible. But in our somewhat volatile climate, at times, with dialoging about things in society, they’ve got some steps to think, “Is there a perspective other than your own to be thinking about?”
[21:17] Their goal in the book is to think about it, to help you widen your options to make the best decision. They call it the WRAP process, W‑R‑A‑P. Widen your options. They say narrow framing will cause you to overlook some options. R, reality‑test your assumptions. This goes into the confirmation bias. Are you assuming something? Check it out with reality. Just step outside of yourself a little bit.
[21:52] Attain distance before deciding. That’s the A in the WRAP. Short‑term emotion tempts us to make choices that are bad in the long term. I really feel like that applies to Facebook for a lot of folks or people sharing some volatile things there. Maybe for posting something, reacting, commenting, that’s just one place, but attain distance and say, “Does this need to be said now?” Or, “Can someone have a different perspective?”
[22:21] Then P, prepare to be wrong. Oftentimes we’re over‑confident in something that’s really not significant. I’m not saying use this book and say to be prepared about everything you believe, but is it possible on an issue that may seem important, are there other perspectives?
[22:46] The goal isn’t to give up all of those. It’s to step out and look at a broader picture. What’s the other perspective of others? You may come back to the very same conclusion, but I think you have a little bit more richness to the process.
[23:00] Anything else guys, before we wrap up?
Scott: [23:03] Nope, I think we covered it.
Lizette: [23:04] Good stuff. A lot to think about, and it’s pretty exciting to get to think about this and introduce some of this research.
[23:12] [background music]
Lizette: [23:12] We want to thank everybody for listening. We would love your feedback. Please contact us via Twitter @smcconn, @statsguycasey, and @lizettebeard. If you want to see more of the research that we have released, you can go to lifewayresearch.com.
[23:25] Also, if you have a moment to go in and rate the podcast and give us a review on iTunes, that always helps. Otherwise, we’ll catch you next time. Thanks for listening.
Americans Want to Avoid Shame, Make Their Loved Ones Proud by LifeWay Research