Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Shame Based Culture

This may seem a little off topic for this site at first, but I think it will make for good discussion. I also believe that if you stick with me on this train of though, you will see that it comes around full circle and is very relevant to the discussion we are having (ongoing) about Mary Kay.

Shah Afshar, a man I met several years ago and respect very highly, has posted an interesting and though provoking article on his relatively new blog – SHAHSHANKEDREDEMPTION. I will link to the article in a little bit, but first I want to establish and point out the particular portion that I am interested in discussing here.

Talking about Senator Obama, from the “If Elected” point of view and in reference to Obama’s promise to “sit down with the presidents of Iran and Syria”, he says,

“The first thing Senator Obama and his advisors need to understand is that when it comes to the Middle East they are dealing with a shame-based culture. In that culture, unlike most western cultures, the focus of one’s action is not on right versus wrong, but honor versus shame. What matters is whether an action brings one honor or shame. For example, a person from such a culture would be justified to lie, cheat, steal or kill in order to keep his honor.”

It is an interesting thing, and a concept that is difficult for those of us with a “western” mindset to grasp, this notion of deciding actions based on whether it would bring honor or shame rather than if it is right or wrong.

I would like to discuss this a little bit here. Take a moment to break out of everything that you know about right and wrong. Consider starting your own society. (Not so much a freakish, cult-like, compound-living society – more of a “new-world, like-minded, early settlers kind of society) Would you suppose that life would be better in a world where people decided how they were going to act based on if that act would bring honor or shame to themselves and/or their family? Or, would it be better to agree on a set of (“This is wrong” “This is right”) rules at the formation of this “society”?

On another note, there seems to be a declining sense of shame and honor in our society. Not to say that we were ever “shame-based” per se, but we certainly see people doing things today in broad daylight that would have been considered “shameful” twenty years ago. Have “we” as a society benefited from this? Or have we lost some moral footing because of it?

I would like to hear some of your thoughts on those questions. If you want to get a “big-picture” grasp of this concept go check out the full post (and the rest of Shah’s blog) here. You can do that before or after commenting. While you are over there, feel free to leave a comment and let him know that I sent you.

Now, I promised you that this would come around full circle to be relevant to Mary Kay. I suspect that one of the complaints of anyone that has been involved with Mary Kay may revolve around this concept of shame. Consider that voicing a negative opinion out loud at a meeting when everyone is trying to get pumped up and excited is extremely counter productive. If the “culture” of Mary Kay is to promote enthusiasm for the product and the opportunity, is it not “shameful” to introduce pessimism into that environment? And does it not bring “honor” to ones team to overcome someone’s dreary day with a little friendliness and enthusiasm?

Please understand, I am not endorsing silent, “lemming-like”, follow-the-leader-off-the-cliff behavior by any means. There is a time and a place to raise objections and concerns and if that is NOT provided by a director/recruiter than something is truly out of balance.

That being said, I have heard of people that were negative (or maybe even simply “not enthusiastic enough”) being forced to hold a rubber chicken in the middle of a meeting. In today’s “don’t hurt anyone’s feelings” mindset/culture, this apparently is unacceptable. What do you think? There are many other examples of this in the Mary Kay culture. I would not say that you only find these practices in Mary Kay though. I think if you look at some of the high performing sales organizations TODAY, you will find similar concepts being practiced. However, regardless of whether it is common practice or not, the question is, “Is it right or wrong?” And, if it gets results or fails to get results, does it matter if it is “right” or “wrong”?

I know I have given you a lot to talk about here – and since many of you have been relatively “silent” lately – I hope that you all can find SOMETHING here that you have enough of an opinion about to speak up!

Please don’t forget to visit my friend Shah – here – and say “hi” for me.


  1. LEt's set a slightly different scenario:

    The scene: a car dealership sales meeting, chaired by the sales manager, and attended by the salesmen, the general manager and finance manager. The manufacturer's district has set sales goals. The sales team knows that their performance during this period will directly affect their quota of the new models coming out.

    The sales manager is pumping everyone up.

    A junior salesman, with less than a month on the job and a below-average record, enthusiastically announces to the group that he will personally sell 10 vehicles this month. This is twice as many vehicles than he has sold since joining the dealership.

    A senior salesman then proceeds to not only rain on the junior salesman's parade, but publically doubts the ability of the entire sales force to meet the challenge.

    What do you think will be the actions of the sales manager and the GM?

  2. I think it just brings down the morale of the whole group. I know it doesnt answer the MAIN question but that is what will happen.

  3. mkhonesty --I think the sales manager just shot his chances at meeting the goal before anyone sold anything and probably lost at least 1 salesman!

    I don't see how intentionalloy embarrasing any sales person (rubber chicken thing - & why isn't that a negative?) would help raise the productivity of the goup. Isn't that the purpose of the meetings - to IMPROVE productivity?

    Whether negativity is "right or wrong", in my opinion, depends upon the context in which the 'negative' item is raised. For example, I was passing out samples & books when I first started & a lady took my (last) book & a hand cream sample, used it, then told me that she purchased from a consultant who worked in the building. I asked my SD what the proper response was to that situation. I have used her suggestion at other times since then!

    In my opinion, if you are asking about protocol or needing help, it is okay to bring up a 'negative' that has happened to you. Lots of others may have good ideas how to handle certain situations or ideas to help you overcome certain objections, etc.

    If there is a CONSTANT complainer, and I know some, why can't/doesn't the recruiter or SD ask that person to stay after the meeting or set a time to meet just with that person to assist or overcome their objections?

    I find it extremely disrespectful of those of us who are working our business, (& paying babysitters so we can attend meetings) to have to sit through or wait for SD to work with "whinny" for 1/2 hour during the time of the regular meeting.

    Just my $0.02

  4. Anyone heard of constructive criticism?

  5. Anonymous,

    How about I offer you some constructive criticism?

    For starters, it would be helpful to the conversation if you choose a name for yourself. It is difficult enough to keep track of who said what on this blog without multiple people calling themselves "anonymous".

    Second, spend a little time developing your thought into a complete and understandable comment. Some good elements to include would be:

    1. What you are referring to. Are you suggesting that "shaming" someone is a version of constructive criticism? OR Are you hoping to convey that constructive criticism is a good alternative to shaming?
    2. Are you in favor of, or against constructive criticism?
    3. Do you think shaming is wrong no matter what the setting or do you think sometimes it can be helpful.

    I would suggest at this point that most people on this blog have heard of constructive criticism. As such, I can only assume that you intended that statement sarcastically. However, in light of the conversation (and my notes above) it is difficult for me to understand in what way the sarcasm is intended.

    Now while I would love to have the added traffic of intelligent people everywhere returning to this site several times today to scratch their head at this enigma you presented us this morning, it would be more beneficial to the purpose of this site for you to spend a little more than 10 seconds and explain what you mean.

    Did this answer help?

  6. mkhonesty,

    It is a great example... I have a pretty good idea (I work with car dealers from time to time) and its not gonna be pretty!

  7. mk honesty,
    This is Colleen I hit the wrong button and it showed as anonymous,
    sorry I meant that the sales manager should have used constructive criticism not force or shame.

  8. MK Honesty said

    1. What you are referring to. Are you suggesting that "shaming" someone is a version of constructive criticism? OR Are you hoping to convey that constructive criticism is a good alternative to shaming?
    2. Are you in favor of, or against constructive criticism?
    3. Do you think shaming is wrong no matter what the setting or do you think sometimes it can be helpful.
    Yes- constructive criticism is an alternative to shaming
    Yes-Im ALL for constructive criticism if done in a respective tone
    Yes or No - I think that shame should only be brought before the Lord and not man!!! Unless its a child and you have to shame them into respecting you. For instance scolding them in front of some people (I hope this shows up as Colleen I must be hitting something wron)

  9. Hey, just wait a second. I did not write Dave's comment to "anon" about constructive criticism, Dave did.

    Anyway, in my comment, the senior salesman making the negative comments is not the Sales Manager.

    My take on "constructive criticism" is that it is only valid when solutions or "a better way to do this" are included. Simply raining on someone else's parade under the guise of "bringing them back down to earth" or downing a challenging goal as being "unrealistic" does not provide anything constructive.

    The world is full of people whose favorite phrases are "I can't" or "you can't". I am not a marathon runner, but I expect that anyone contemplating running a marathon for the first time will similar comments from family, friends, etc. These same people ignore the basic fact that people who have never completed a marathon do so every year. Yet these same "negative nellies" will continue to say "you can't", "she's an idiot for trying", "don't you have better things to do?", "he's being selfish and neglecting your wife/children by training". Think I'm exaggerating? My Sr Sales Director wife made the last comment to me in regards to my brother training, qualifying for, and then completing the Hawaii Ironman in October.

  10. oops I made a mistake it was Dave I apologize MK Honesty and Dave Im sorry the thing popped up as anonymous you know Im not a trouble maker...LOL

  11. Coleen,

    Thanks for clarifying.

    Both of you, thanks for getting things started.

    Allow me to expand MY thoughts on this a little - (READ: I need to vent!!)

    One of the things that is beginning to frustrate me about our society is the fact that you can't "call people out" anymore - for fear of hurting their individuality.

    You are having an important meeting with a lot of important information being offered and someone's cell phone rings. Not only that, they answer it. Not only that, they have a 5 minute plus conversation without leaving the room. In that whisper voice that is more distracting than regular voice and punctuated with "can you hear me?"

    It used to be that the person leading that meeting could take the phone away from the person, tell the person on the other line, "She/He will have to call you back" Turn off the phone and pocket it until the end of the meeting.

    Embarrassing? You bet. Effective? Definitely. Observe how many people try that again at the next meeting.

    Apply the same to any unnecessary outburst - including the "rain on parade" scenario mkhonesty painted earlier. Why do we have to be so sensitive to the emotional feelings of an individual at the expense of the other 99% who are eager to get information, be pumped up, etc.?

    Since when does the socially inept, arrogant dissenter get "privileges"? Or worse "rights"?

    I will again emphasize. There is a time and place for questions and concerns to be raised. There is a time and a place to make and receive important phone calls. There are some that don't get into the whole, "rah rah - we are great salespeople selling a great product" atmosphere and that is fine.

    That doesn't mean that creating that atmosphere is ineffective or worthless. In fact, just the opposite is true. The fact that you don't "believe" that it works does very little to influence the equation of effectiveness.

    If you are in MK (or other direct sales endeavor) and you have a meeting you can go to where you can get pumped about your product/service, go as often as you can. Get into the "hype" as some call it. Your enthusiasm for what you are selling is what will sell it. YOU NEED THAT. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

    If you are "not that kind of person", or you "hate the rah rah(s)" - don't go. Don't waste everyone else's time with your sour, bitter attitude. You think you can do better without it? Go for it. Some people can. There is nothing wrong with that. If your director is calling you, begging you to come, THAT is the time to be direct. If she calls you negative (this is fairly short-sighted of her) - offer, "I can either be negative now and not come, or show up and be negative at the meeting". I am sure she will elect the former!

    Having said all that, in mkhonesty's example, I think the SM or the GM should lead the senior salesman to the nearest display model, open the door for him, allow him to sit down comfortably in the car, lock the doors, and close the door.

    He should then calmly return to the remaining salesmen, applaud the junior salesman for his enthusiasm and suggest to everyone that this is the kind of attitude "we all need everyday".

  12. You can relate all of this to a marriage. I dont care WHO you are we ALL need rah rah. If a woman gets married and her husband NEVER has fun with her or vice versa or if he or she never compliments each other and did what they did the marriage (or relationship)dies!

    If you dont have encouragement in business or personal or even spiritual the fire goes out. I know some CLAIM they dont like the rah rah but that is why they came there in the first place ro rev up their wallet and to rev up their
    personalities. So I say all this to say that we all need a little excitement in our lives.

  13. disillusioned with MKApril 10, 2008 at 1:34 PM

    I agree that we all need encouragement and such. But the unit meetings that I have attended in the past were 99% rah rah and only 1% something else. And there was really nothing to rah rah about. So what if someone ordered a star. Let's rah rah when they actually sell it. And then let them tell you how they did it. That is my beef with the meetings. Not enough training. And too much recruiting of guests.

  14. speaking the real truthApril 11, 2008 at 10:08 AM

    A really good sales director will incorporate things into her meetings that appeal to all personality types. In my opinion, that makes for a truly successful, recognition, and motivation.

    On a side note. I see comparison with those on "the other blog" to many in our current political scene. They are so hungry to be right, they just can't wait for someone to fail. In MK, they get so excited if they hear any negative news that they can blow out of proportion, and that has no factual basis. Our political climate is much the same, there are many who actually want us to fail in Iraq, so that they can be right about not going there in the first place.

    What is wrong with us as people? Is being right the end all?

    It's really sad that they even wish for their friends to fail so that the friend will leave MK and so that their own decision to leave will be justified.


  15. speaking the real truthApril 11, 2008 at 10:11 AM

    BTW, I'm not bringing up whether being in Iraq is right or wrong, I'm only pointing out that many want us to fail so that their opinion is supported and justified.

    The same goes for our President. Many want him to fail so that they can say, "see, I was right". As long as we think this way, how can American succeed? It all seems so selfish.

    Rant over.

  16. Pink Bren here... Speaking, I couldn't agree with you more. Our culture today is waiting for people to fail so that they can pounce like a rabied animal. It is really sad that we live like this. We need to lift each other up and help when someone starts to fail.

    I can't it help butI want to help people that are the underdog so to speak. I get excited when people make it or they finish things that they started. I have a very dear friend that is the single mom of two and she graduated in DEC and is now in school getting her masters. I am so proud of her you know the sad thing is that her family (brothers and sisters) didn't want her to do this. They told her to quit school and get a full time job she is the first in her family to graduate from college, I told her no you don't you just keep going and the Lord will provide for you and the kids. And the Lord has.

    About the Iraq thing I agee with that too. I believe that there are some out there that want the US to fail in everything that it does and stands for. I think that our founding fathers would be turning in the graves. Anyway I can always pray and that is exactly what I do.

    OK stepping off my soap box.


  17. Dear Speaking,

    I find your words so powerful and profoundly illustrative. Your observation of the similarities between the Mary Kay Cosmetics venture and our current situation in Iraq simply hit the nail on the head for me. I can’t imagine a more enlightening comparison.


  18. Speaking,

    That is an excellent observation!

    I suspect that as with anything there will be more than one perspective on this thought. Perhaps the next topic will go this direction.

    For now though,

    There will be those that want to see people/things fail because they will be vindicated or "proved right" as you say.

    There will also be people that predict the failure/downfall of a thing based on past experience or some greater understanding of a concept. (Think of an experienced computer programmer watching a student type several lines of code that he knows is "wrong". It is not a matter of hoping to see that student fail, it is simply an inevitability.) It could be said of these people that they are hoping for a speedy "failure" because they know that until the mistake is realized, correction is impossible.

    The tricky thing - and thus the thing I would like to discuss - is what separates these two types of people?

    Obviously, the root of the difference - the motivation - is the only true difference between them. But how can we tell (if at all) who is genuinely interested in the betterment of the individual whose "failure" they are eagerly anticipating, and who is merely bitter and sadistic in their desire to see such an end?

    Again thank you for a well expressed, thought provoking comment!

  19. For me, and pretty much my whole community and family, right and wrong equalled honour and shame. If you did right, that brought honour to you and your family. If you did wrong, that brought shame to you and your family.


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