When Uncle Tsarni Ruslan spoke about his nephews, accused of committing the Boston bombing, he did not shy away from the point.
“Of course we are ashamed!” Tsarni said. “They are [the] children of my brother.” He did not stop there. “He put a shame on our family,” he told the world. “He put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity.”
His honest and emotional response has been well received by the public. It points to something that we seem to have lost, something that public speakers rarely evoke. He spoke bluntly and honestly. He did not excuse their actions as a result of radicalization. He did not avoid the question or deflect blame. He stood in front of the world and said to his own blood, what you did was wrong and you are bad people.
Some of the reason for the absence of such talk is that America has a guilt culture, as opposed to a shame based culture like you would see in China or Japan. This is deeply related to our individualistic perspective. The difference between guilt and shame is that while guilt is internal, shame relates to reputation. If you believe you did something wrong, you are supposed to feel guilty regardless of whether or not anyone knows. In more collectivist cultures it does not matter if you believe what you did was right or wrong. The fact that the public believes what you did was wrong should make you feel bad.
Guilt culture does have many safeguards related to our individualistic values. We think that sometimes the majority can be wrong (and it certainly can) about our particular choices. “Walk a mile in my shoes,” we say. However, without any form of public shame justification and rationalization will eventually take hold.
It was these justifications that were notably absent from Uncle Ruslan’s speech. He did not blame the actions on insanity. Although he admitted that they might have been “radicalized” it was largely dismissive, and he never once suggested that evil men led his nephews astray. He did not blame society. We heard this and we applauded him, even if we didn’t fully understand why.
When a person commits evil, it is the job of society to condemn not only the action, but the person. Every single human has the capacity for both good and evil. We chose which we will be.
The Washington Post, Muslims Have a Problem. Uncle Ruslan May Have The Answer: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-23/national/38747889_1_radicalization-bombers-islam
The New York Times, Killers’ Families Left to Confront Fear and Shame: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2013/04/uncle_ruslan_tsarni_the_uncle_of_bombing_suspects_dzhokhar_and_tamerlan.html
Stanford University, Cultural Models of Shame and Guilt: http://www.psychology.stanford.edu/~tsailab/PDF/yw07sce.pdf
The New York Times, Killers’ Families Left to Confront Fear and Shame: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/05/us/killers-families-left-to-confront-fear-and-shame.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Forbes, When your Chinese Employees Lose Face, You Lose Them: http://www.forbes.com/sites/sylviavorhausersmith/2012/05/29/when-your-chinese-employees-lose-face-you-lose-them-2/
ABC News, Oscar Pistorius Case: http://abcnews.go.com/International/oscar-pistorius-case-blade-runner-denies-charge-intentionally/story?id=18534442#.UXrGDMqQsrM
Herald News, Nadine Taylor’s Murderer Sentenced to Life in Prison: http://thechronicleherald.ca/metro/1125318-nadine-taylor-s-murderer-sentenced-to-life-in-prison
The New York Times, The Mind of a Con Man: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/magazine/diederik-stapels-audacious-academic-fraud.html?pagewanted=all
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gary Michael Hilton Gets 4 Life Sentences: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/gary-michael-hilton-gets-4-life-sentences/nXYP8/
CNN, A Killer in the Family: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/31/living/a-killer-in-the-family