Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Southern Honor

So, the other day I was reminded of my strong southern tendencies concerning Honor, of which I am extremely proud. I know for a fact that southerners put more natural stock in honor than other parts of the globe, but do you?

About a year ago I read a book called “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s kind of a strange book in that it doesn’t really help you do anything, it just helps you understand things. Basically, it examines some successful people, and tries to figure out why they succeeded. There were some really interesting parts, and some parts that I skimmed, but my favorite part the chapter about

“cultural honor.”

It was so fascinating in fact that I've already written a post about it on the other blog, so I'm gonna be lame and basically paste it here. I edited it some because my writing style has matured a little, but the basics are still here.

Stick with me, please, I find this whole thing profoundly eye-opening.

You’ve heard about family feuds, right? How for generations and generations, families will just fight with each other for reasons they might not even remember? Well, let me quote Mr. Gladwell

“One family doing this is a feud. A ton of families right along the Appalachian doing it is a pattern.”

What made people in the south so prone to violent out breaks with each other?

Cultural honor.

You see, the main profession of the mountain areas was livestock so, peoples’ honor was very important. I mean, if you’re a farmer, you try your best to get along with people, but it’s not like anyone can actually STEAL your livelihood. What are they gonna do, pick up the wheat field and take it home?

However, if your job was tending sheep, people very well could steal your hard work. All you had to protect your livestock and your family was your reputation. Build up your reputation as a tough guy and no one will mess with you. Keep your honor intact.

Even nowadays when southerners have jobs other than watching cows all day, the mentality of keeping your honor has stuck around. Maybe it’s because there’s another reason for culture honor. It has to do with heritage.

Back during immigration, a definite trend started with the Scotch-Irish: they settled along the eastern/southern US.

That would be “from the Pennsylvania border south and west through Virginia and West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, and the northern end of Alabama and Georgia.” And that’s where all this “cultural honor” stuff is big. You can steal my stuff, but you can’t insult my mama. That’s how it works here. *clears throat* I mean, there…

Okay, I’m from North Carolina. And when Mr. Malcolm Gladwell started raggin’ on my homeland, I started getting pretty hot inside.

And as I started boiling, I blinked and realized I was proving his point.



I read on.

Gladwell also mentioned an experiment. In the early 1990s, two psychologists decided to get together a bunch of 18-21 year old guys and insult them to see how they would react. They came up with the insult they thought would resonate with them the most. “Asshole.”

The Experiment:

“The social sciences building at the University of Michigan has a long, narrow hallway in the basement lined with filing cabinets. The young men were called into a classroom, one by one and asked to fill out a questionnaire. Then they were told to drop off the questionnaire at the end of the hallway and return to the classroom.”

Half the guys were from the states that were high on cultural honor, half of them were not.

“As they walked down the hallway with their questionnaire, a man—a partner in the experiment—walked past them and pulled out a drawer in one of the filing cabinets. The already narrow hallway now became even narrower. As the young men tried to squeeze by, the part looked up, annoyed. He slammed the filing cabinet drawer shut, jostled the young men with his shoulder, and, in a low but audible voice said the trigger word: ‘asshole.’”

Through different tests that I won’t go into in detail, the suspicions were confirmed. Confirmed A LOT. The cultural honor boys were mad. Even though they didn’t act out in violence, their handshakes were firmer than usual, saliva samples revealed that being insulted had raised their levels of testosterone and cortisol (hormones that drive aggression). The guys were also given a short story and told to supply a conclusion. The story had to do with a guy’s girlfriend being come onto by another guy. The cultural honor guys who had been insulted made it end violently, while the guys who lived in other places did not.


I’m going to be perfectly honest with you:

I never thought people reacted any differently.

Call me ignorant, but I thought this was the same everywhere. I had no idea that in other parts of the US, it wouldn’t be natural to react violently to having your honor insulted. I mean, you just don’t do that here. No one gets upset if you steal their stuff, but if you attack their honor, boy, it’s on.

It’s not just guys, it’s girls, too. I mean, I honestly had no idea that it would occur to anyone not to get wild about something like this…I think I’ve already said that :) But you get the idea.

Who knew? I had no idea that culture honor wasn’t the same everywhere. What a cool eye-opener!

Hope you guys found this at least half as interesting as I did :)


  1. I think I'd be offended if someone stole my stuff!

    I do agree though that defending your honour is more important in some places than it is in others. I suppose it's just the way you've brought up.

  2. I think honor is definitely worth defending, but you won't get violent responses like that in Canada. At what point is it going to far?

  3. Hazel: Eh, it depends for me :)

    Jay: Hm. You just gave me a post idea.

    ~Guess Who