Keeping ‘Face’ In China
One of the hardest things for me to get used to or to accept during my time in China so far is this deeply rooted concept in the locals of keeping face. To the Chinese people keeping face in public (meaning never embarrassing or dishonoring your image) seems to be one of the most important things in the world to them. They go to great lengths and confine themselves to strict rules to ensure they never stand out in a negative way to tarnish the views others have of them. Even when Chinese people argue passionately they tend to do it in a straight faced emotionless way to keep face. There are many times when a Chinese person will want to do one things but be forced to do another to fit into society’s image of how they should act. I’ve also heard stories of people putting themselves into unhappy situations and living through many years of suffering in order to regain this lost face for themselves or their families.
While I believe in living with your own personal honor and values the idea of acting against your own will to keep a public image goes against everything I believe in and seeing it around me constantly makes me cringe a little on the inside.
It also reminds me more of how I used to act in the past, while in North America we don’t have such a strictly defined standard for keeping face, we still cut out true parts of ourselves in certain areas to maintain a public image. This kind of behavior can all be boiled down to fear, namely fear of rejection or judgment being placed on you by others.
Live by your values not others
I’m a firm believer that if you aren’t living by your own personal values then you’re going to end up unhappy. If for instance you values creativity, outgoingness and adventure, but instead of following your dream of let’s say… making music, your parents, teachers or society in general convinces you following risky dreams is foolish and its best to accept a more stable real job like… an accountant. Accepting that job out of fear you will fail to live up to the normal measures of success placed upon you will go against what you believe in, and is the quickest route to an unsatisfying life.
If you’re afraid to take chances in life or to be embarrassed, or rejected or to fail then you might experience less of these things, but you’ll also learn a whole lot less and you’ll miss out on any opportunity to grow from these experiences. Failure is absolutely not a bad thing. You should congratulate yourself every time you fail, because it means you tried for something, and now you can try again taking as much out of your failure as you can. As you may have heard Thomas Edison failed in over 1000 experiments at making light bulbs practical for modern use but when asked about these failures he stated “I haven’t failed 1000 times, I’ve simply found 1000 ways that don’t work.” Without failures along the way to learn from it would be very hard to accomplish anything. Even at the time when Babe Ruth had the most homeruns ever in baseball he also held the records for the most strikeouts, but no one worries about the failures when they can focus on the successes. When you worry about losing face in the eyes of others you fear failure and thus hold back your own success.
I think there are positive ideas behind the concept of face as well they are just gone about slightly wrong. The idea of regaining face by correcting a wrongness done by doing something right is something that should be important in all cultures, however I feel this regaining of face by righting a wrong should be a personal choice rather than a social need. That way it will be seen as a positive act by all parties rather than a filled obligation. Also having a strong sense of self worth comes with maintaining high face which is an empowering thing, but I feel a person’s self worth should not be something so vulnerable that can be lost so easily. People should be proud of who they are even when they make mistakes even if other people look down on them, they shouldn’t care what others think.
Are there consequences?
Now some people might object that if you truly don’t care what other people think of you won’t that lead you to becoming a bad person? If you don’t care won’t you just do whatever you feel like? Steal things if you what them, get drunk and act like an idiot everyday because it’s fun, or sit around lazily and mooch off your parents never making anything of yourself? The reason this isn’t the case is because while you don’t care what anyone else thinks about you, you still live by your own values. When you adopt this mentality you create a high standard of what you’ll accept from yourself because your standards are the only ones that matter.
Living with passion
I think loosing face is a good thing. It means you’re doing things out of the ordinary, taking risks, going for what you want, maybe it just means your living passionately, refusing to conform, breaking the rules a little, at least you won’t be bored, at least you won’t be boring, at least you won’t slowly loose the desires you repress while keeping face, at least you’ll be living honestly.
Societies idea of what’s good and normal and acceptable has always been a little messed up anyway. How many times throughout history has the majority of the world believed something which was ridiculous? How many cultures worshipped the sun and sacrificed people to the gods? How many times were people thought to be witches burned at the stake? How many believed the world was flat and if you sailed off into the ocean you would reach the end?
Live by your own rules, do what you believe in, value what’s important to you and live it. Don’t worry about what others think of you, your own opinion is all that matters, and for god’s sake lose face once in a while!