September 8, 2018
Applying the Innocence-Guilt Cultural Paradigm, Part A
Musings on the Innocence-Guilt Paradigm, Part 2A. Continuing an exploration of the Innocence-Guilt Cultural Paradigm, with a view to appreciating its nuances.
This is “Applying the Innocence-Guilt Cultural Paradigm, Part 2a,” a follow-up post to Discovering the Innocence-Guilt Cultural Paradigm, Part 1a and Discovering, Part 1b. These articles are part of a general discussion of the Three Colors of Worldview.
All participants in a multicultural team must keep mindful of their own predominant cultural paradigms—the Color of Worldview with which we are most familiar will always tint our perception of the reality we share with others in an intercultural space. We can learn to appreciate the strengths of all Three Colors of Worldview, and help one another compensate for the weaknesses.
For team members who grew up in Innocence-Guilt–oriented environments, it may be exceptionally necessary to maintain that awareness of an Innocence-Guilt filter.
Innocence-Guilt–oriented people must be intentional to create a safe space where it is all right for everyone present to share openly—or to opt not to share!
When working with colleagues or students from different backgrounds, for example, an Innocence-Guilt–oriented person needs to be able to discern whether a group discussion or a one-on-one conversation might be most appropriate for a particular topic and/or a particular combination of individuals. Seemingly-trivial items may actually have great import—like whether meetings or private conversations ought to be casual or formal, face-to-face or over-the-phone. But it is also important to be able to understand why one teammate might have reservations and another might not; why one may be able to commit to a certain task, and another may not; why one or the other might be more or less willing to contribute.
Innocence-Guilt–oriented leaders need to incorporate the strengths of their cultural paradigm in ways that promote the productivity and relational health of their teams.
There are more or less “helpful” ways to pull Innocence-Guilt aspects into the everyday life of a workplace or educational center, and utilize them. Through training, we can discover and understand the distinctions between those aspects and positives and negatives of utilizing them in everyday life.
However, it can be a particularly difficult challenge, and an ongoing one, to apply that learned perspective to each new intercultural situation we encounter—across projects, across industries, across nations and worldviews!
One important application of an understanding of the Innocence-Guilt paradigm is to avoid overuse—of guilt or innocence.
Slowly we are learning to not think that innocence is totally good and guilt is totally wrong. Both of them have a rightful place.
A sense of guilt, when appropriately evoked and appropriately handled, can be helpful. It can add to someone’s developmental journey. For instance, when you’ve promised a colleague to do something, and you haven’t done it, it can be constructive and instructive for you to feel a sense of guilt. Very likely, your colleague may question your unfulfilled promise and wonder, quite reasonably, “Well, you had plenty of time—why didn’t you do it?” And the sense of guilt that accompanies that conversation is actually healthy, because you will remember it, and that negative experience will probably compel you to work harder and to do whatever it takes to keep your word next time.
The avoidance of negative emotions is not really the name of the game—it’s the avoidance of inappropriate negative emotions.
So yes, of course, you could overuse guilt, and keep loading guilt on people, keep making them feel stupid, and confronting them on all issues, big and small—creating an environment where it’s not safe to fail anymore. Every single time someone makes a mistake—regardless of whether it’s an egregious error or something of minimal consequence—he or she gets pounced upon. An intercultural space is not going to be productive nor relationally healthy if everyone feels like they must “walk on eggshells” or that they can do nothing right! So the overuse of guilt, of course, is not appropriate.
An appropriate use of guilt can actually be very beneficial if employed as a warning system.
Sometimes negative experiences can do us good! Ask any mother whose child touches a pot of boiling water, burns his fingertip, but quickly yanks his hand away from the stovetop before worse could happen. Just as pain is a negative but needful phenomenon that deters us from lingering longer in a harmful situation—so guilt can be a negative experience that delivers a strong message of warning. Guilt can keep us from developing unwise and counterproductive patterns of behavior that could do us and everyone around us a great deal of harm. Guilt can be an appropriately-wielded tool in confrontation, creative correction that teaches a lesson without completely destroying the student.
Say you are driving your car down a steep mountain road, and your brakes go out—if you had a choice (theoretically), would you rather ensure that an ambulance is waiting at the bottom of the mountain, or would you prefer there be a guardrail strong enough to prevent your car from tumbling over the cliff in the first place? You would probably choose the guardrail, as that increases the odds that you won’t have any need for the ambulance at the bottom of the mountain after all!
In the formation both of personal character and professional development, guilt can serve as a kind of guardrail—a fence to keep you from harming yourself and others, providing safe parameters and prevent you from disasters, small or great.
A sense of innocence seems admirable, but it is also possible to overuse innocence.
The next article about applications of what we understand of the Innocence-Guilt cultural paradigm (Applying, Part 2B) will discuss ramifications of an unhealthy preoccupation with real (or apparent) innocence.
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