Honor Cultures and the Customer0
By Frank J. Rich
Pride of ownership is a natural aid to the psyche of populations—one that encourages others in efforts to find their best behavior. Clearly, we can all benefit from more time spent in this pursuit. Our sense of belonging—to community, opportunity through education, our neighborhood, indeed, to each other—may depend largely on this pride of ownership. Buoyed by the implied standards that inform it (belonging), we craft a model of honor for the things we hold dear, that forms the psyche driving the day-to-day. Honor, as virtue, is not oft denied; we are somehow made better when the things we do, value, and practice are shared and honored by others.
However winsome a model on the surface, honor cultures bear a cheeky underbelly for the orthodoxy that often arises in it. The pert wisdom in joining with others in common ethic, according to social psychologist Ryan P. Brown in his book Honor Bound: How a Cultural Ideal Has Shaped the American Psyche, appears to have an inimical side; namely, a severe contempt for comments, and others, that do not share it. In short, our preoccupation with honor (as defined here) gives us over to greater scrutiny and sensitivity to, well, behavior, people, and things that do not meet the (self-formed) narrative of so-called “honor.”
The pursuit of individual rights may position all as judge over “rights” and the “appropriate” license to practice them—a predisposing and imposing view of all others as good or bad by how well they measure up to our standards. Clearly, the model poses a threat to free speech and to the “right” to speak one’s mind, even when motivated by a selfless desire to join a diverse population in the joys that diversity provides. According to Brown’s research, so purposeful is the honor culture in preparing a platform for violence, its statistical analysis reveals higher rates of domestic violence and school shootings in “honor obsessed” cultures. The honor culture serves antipodal results—a not too honorable culture, after all.
In answering the question, “What behavioral trait do kids need to be happy and successful?” Michele Borba, educational psychologist and author of the book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, offered empathy alone as the most beneficial trait. Simply, “understanding the people around us—kids and adults—better enables us to collaborate, innovate and solve problems,” she said. We are a nation of people with high anxiety and low self-esteem, giving rise to what Borba calls the “Selfie Syndrome,” among other things. The result is often increased narcissism in our model of behavior, the absence of a realistic self-assessment, humility, and empathy. So serious is the problem that studies show narcissism rates have risen roughly 60 percent over the last 30 years. Bullying, cheating, and general unhappiness are its common signs.
What does all this have to do with customers?
Customer data to grow the critical knowledge base necessary to serve customers with product and services better informs the buyer/seller exchange than ever before. What’s often lost is the perspective that the buyer (like the seller) is a human being with needs beyond the product or service offered. She/he is hurried, economically less endowed than their parents were at their age, emotionally less well adjusted, and wary of the impersonal nature of this information age. In short, the expectation that sellers are always trying to take advantage of us (Americans do not want to be sold), and that buyers are only interested in price as a value proposition (over 70 percent of all offers include a sale, discount, or promotion) leads to an unfulfilling end. What happens to us when we see a policeman approaching us? The fear, uncertainty, and doubt that fills us often leads to obsequious or defensive behavior that often produces a poor result. We tend to find the enemy when “the enemy” is what we’re looking for.
Sellers are mostly doing an honest job at finding product or crafting services that fill needs. At the local level, and without the funds to organize and automate, this is hard work. The customer is usually looking for himself in the things he wants, needs, or is in the habit of buying. That identity is revealed in the things they buy, or no sale is made.
When empathy is in the mix, both do better. We respect the effort the seller makes on our behalf and openly regard his product and service as valuable. The seller who enjoys people finds opportunity to learn their wants, desires, and habits to better serve them… and the emotional needs in the buying experience.
Every cookie that comes out of the oven is different, and for reasons that disappear the moment you taste the goodness in them.