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Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

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What is the "culture of honor" in Outliers?

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In Outliers, a culture of honor is one in which resources are scarce, and it is important for a family's survival that they command fear and respect to ensure that people are afraid of stealing from them. Gladwell uses cultures of honor as an example of the continuing power of cultural legacies.

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In Chapter 6 of Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell uses the idea of the "culture of honor" to illustrate how people are strongly influenced by their cultural legacies. He begins with the story of a small town in Kentucky, where the families show a propensity to feud. It came to be expected that personal quarrels would turn into wider family disputes, and that this was simply the natural order of things. People could not live in peace with their neighbors.

Gladwell goes on to note that this town is not unique. Family feuds are common all over Kentucky, where immigrants come from Scottish and Irish "cultures of honor." These were cultures where resources were scarce, and one of the easiest ways to survive was by stealing a neighbor's sheep or goats. Families had to discourage this behavior in neighboring herdsmen by instilling a culture of fear and vengeance.

Everyone knew that if you stole a sheep from a certain family, members of that family would not only target you personally, but would violently attack your entire family in retaliation. In a poor and lawless society, this was the best protection they could have for their property. Even though such aggression is no longer necessary, it survives as a cultural legacy in parts of the American South.

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