Shame Culture vs. Guilt Culture

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Guilt Culture

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Shame Culture

Some people believe that the Achaeans had a shame culture and that in America today we have a guilt culture. However, I believe that in today’s society we have a combination of a guilt and shame culture. If we compare The Iliad to examples of people in today’s society, we can see the similarities and differences between the Achaean’s culture and our culture in America.

In The Iliad, Achilles clearly expressed what a shame culture is in a simple passage in Book 9.

“Mother tells me,

the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet,

that two fates bear me on to the day of death.

If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy,

my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.

If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,

my pride, my glory dies…

true, but the life that’s left me will be long,

the stroke of death will not come on me quickly.”


In the Achaean shame culture, soldiers had to fight in during war times in order to be rewarded with glory and honor, and if they left the fight like a coward, they were shamed. This idea of shame culture is exactly what Achilles was expressing in Book 9. Achilles exclaimed that if he fought, he would die early in life but would always have his glory, however, if he left the war, he would have lived a long life, but would have lost his glory forever. These two options are what every Achaean warrior faced, so considering that The Iliad is revolved around a shame culture, most men decided to fight, even though they would most likely die, because the thought of having no glory or honor scared them more than death. All the soldiers in The Iliad wanted kleos, or glory, that one acquired by dying in the act of bravery. There are people in today’s society that also have this belief.

Many young men and women in today’s society do not know what to do after high school so they enroll in the military. They do this because their whole lives, they had not done anything exceptional and so they decide to go into the military hoping to find honor and glory. Since we live in a somewhat shame culture, people believe that if young adults are not doing something productive, then they should be ashamed. I have seen this happen countless times in my community and around the world.

My mother has a friend whose son had no idea what he wanted to do after high school, so he joined the military. He did not join because he felt the need to protect his country, he joined because he wanted to gain honor. It has been three years since he joined the military and he has since gained honor within his family and his community and finally feels like he has a purpose in life. This man resembles Achilles in the way that the man could have stayed home where there is minimal risk of dying, but instead chose to fight so he could obtain that glory and honor that most people seek their whole lives. He wanted tîmê, or honor one can get through victories and material rewards. However, there are other people that go about their day in different way, by doing the right thing without expecting anything in return.

While we do live in a shame culture, we also live in a guilt culture. This guilt culture tells us that if we do not act selflessly then we should feel guilty and change our lives to help others. That is the reason that so many people have it ingrained in their minds to help others no matter what the cost is. It is just the way we have been raised in American society. We have even been from a young age that “sharing is caring”. By telling young children this, they start to acknowledge the fact that they must share their good fortune with other people because that is the right thing to do. Therefore, we must be selfless in order to be good people. There are many people who have shown their selfless sides, but one case speaks to me the most.

There is a man in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department who was caught in the middle of performing a selfless act. According to the Huffington Post, this officer came across a homeless man named Fred, who was panhandling. Instead of giving Fred a ticket, the officer surprised the world by doing something heroic. The officer pulled over and took out a new pair of boots that he gave to the homeless man. If that is not enough to fill your heart with kindness, then what happens next will.

Fred’s feet were too big for the shoes, so he told the officer that he would give the shoes to another man in need. This example shows the guilt culture in action. The officer helped Fred without expecting anything in return, then Fred performed a selfless task by offering to give the too small shoes to another man in need, even though this meant that we would get nothing. This is something that no man would do in The Iliad because the characters in The Iliad only do things that benefit them.

It is easy to come to the conclusion that The Iliad revolved around a shame culture through the evidence presented by Homer, but luckily, today’s society has moved on from that culture. I believe that in America today, we combine the positives of both a shame culture and a guilt culture in order to create a better society. As more people like the officer and Fred keep popping up in our society, I am certain that our mixed culture is turning us into an honorable society.


Works Cited

Hall, Alena. “Kind Cop Caught On Camera Giving Homeless Man Shoes

Instead of Ticket.” The Huffington Post., Inc.,

10 September 2014. Web. 11 October 2015 <http://www.huffington


Homer. The Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Group, 1990.




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