Now, many (most) that are reading this may not live in societies that are shaped by honor and shame in a manner similar to the ancient world, but all are certainly able to understand the high value that is placed on the “court of public opinion.” Politicians, first and foremost, live and die through rightly understanding the court of public opinion, attempting to craft their positions to reflect the wider sentiment, or if given the opportunity, reshape that sentiment in a way that is more to their liking. Even in this construct, which is broad and encompasses a wide swath of the public, some people’s opinions and positions are given more weight than others.
In Paul’s world, which included the influential and wealthy city of Corinth, as it was governed by concerns with honor and shame, the court of public opinion was a formidable entity. This was the unofficial, shifting, and partially undefined body of people within society which determined a person’s social standing. Naturally, the determinations were made by those that were already understood to be possessive of honor, thus their opinions were not exactly unbiased or altruistic, as they would not want to jeopardize their own status by approving and assigning honor to that which might run contrary to that which has brought them their own honor.
So even though public opinion is malleable, it is often monolithic. Given the absence of mass-media, public opinion could not be shifted on a whim. Given these things, social standing, whether honorable or dishonorable, is determined in accordance with society’s values. One’s honor did not come from how one viewed oneself, but from how one was viewed by the public at large and by those already considered honorable more specifically.
Archaeology has uncovered an abundance of inscriptions in the city of Corinth that attest to the importance of the honor and shame system and the court of public opinion. These inscriptions are honorific in nature, as would be expected, and serve to demonstrate what seems to be a near obsession with public honor. Such inscriptions, obviously, would be encouraged by those being honored as it would cause the honorees to be viewed in the most positive light imaginable and by the widest possible cross-section of the populace (with this standing in for mass media/social media).
These inscriptions would run the gamut, extolling individuals for being loyal and generous, excelling in virtues while shunning vices, gracious in tending to the affairs of others as much as he would his own, and living a life free from strife. These things served to adequately demonstrate the types of things that could lead, along with actions of public benefaction, to the accrual of honor. A person feted in such ways would be accorded much honor in accordance with the value system of society, as confirmed by the ever-changing court of public opinion. Conversely, disloyal behavior, stinginess, an excess of vice-like behavior, a selfish pre-occupation with one’s own affairs, and the production of strife were actions that would lead to the accrual of shame.