Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Southern Culture of Honor

I read about a concept the other day that I thought was interesting in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. It is called the (Southern) ‘Culture of Honor.’” We southerners are nice and congenial for the most part. We may even make it a habit of going out of our way to accommodate someone, but apparently, we as a whole, are also hyper-sensitive to the feeling that someone has disrespected us. We are pretty laid back and easy going, until we perceive that someone has dishonored us or someone or something we value.

Some research shows that when someone does or says something intentionally offensive to a person whose family history goes back several generations in the south, they become angrier than people from the north. We get angry enough to show physical signs of anger like a flushed red face or an exaggerated frown. There are physiological effects too, like extra cortisol and testosterone in bloodstream. It doesn’t seem to matter whether people are wealthy, more intelligent, or if they are healthy or not. Only those from the south seem to let the insult stick in their craw, whereas, those from the north seem to let the insult roll off their backs. Northerners seem to intentionally make themselves stay calm and not over react.

Apparently, this phenomenon has to do with the cultures our ancestors came from. For the most part, those who came out of shepherding communities like Scotland and Ireland settled in the southern states and those who came from farming communities settled in the North. Back in history, in the old country, those who raised livestock had to fiercely protect the flock or they could easily lose everything if threats were left unchallenged or they appeared weak. Any threat to their honor had to be confronted with great force. Livestock raising families became very independent, circling the wagons at any hint of danger. On the other hand, farmers needed to foster a sense of community with each other, helping each other out when times got tough. They were more prone to let a passing threat go in order to preserve the peace. It seems strange that this “culture of honor” would be passed down so many generations later, but it is true today according to this research.

So, it appears that, even though we are in the “Bible Belt” and are considered more religious, we seem to be more prone toward a hereditary anger problem. So, what do we do about it? It is contrary to Jesus teaching. He says in Luke 6:27-31 (NIV)"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

We even call verse 31, “The Golden Rule.” These are tough commands for us, because we want others to obey them all the time, but we give ourselves a free pass when someone has insulted us. This takes an active, willful choice to change our reaction. We can choose not to be offended, even when someone is offensive. We can choose not to sin in our anger, even if something inside us says, “you have every right to get revenge, look at what he/she did to you.” We can pray that God would fill us with His Spirit, who gives us things like peace and goodness, kindness and gentleness, even patience to deal with affronts to our honor. (Galatians 5:22)

Jesus warns that if we who claim to follow Him don’t change our reactions, our lives are no different than anyone else. Luke 6:32-34 (NIV) "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full.”In Luke 6:35 Jesus says, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

The scriptures don’t say, I will honor those who fight for their own honor. It says in 1 Samuel 2:30b (NIV) “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.” Our honor comes from God, not men. If we dishonor Him with our reactions, we will be disrespected.


PS. I write this fully aware that I may be challenged on this point before the day is over. Pray that I get it right this time.