Guilt and shame may not be attractive words, but they are crucial to any ethical and well-functioning society. The difference between guilt and shame is fundamental. In 1946, the anthropologist Ruth Benedict distinguished between cultures of guilt and shame in her book about Japan, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. In shame cultures, morality is defined and driven by what others expect of people. What deters or discourages people from behaving unethically is the fear of shame — the disapproval, disgrace and humiliation they would experience if other people found out what they had done. Shame is related to social conformity and control. In guilt cultures, ethical behaviour depends not on the attitudes and perceptions of others, but on people’s own intrinsic sense of how they ought to behave, on people doing what is right because it is right. In such a culture, people freely choose to behave in accordance with their internalised moral precepts. Guilt is the inner disturbance people exp...

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