Living in a culture of face wears on me. Once I became aware of the importance of keeping face and giving face I felt pressure to remember and consider face. In America we’d say its something like keeping up appearances or giving and receiving respect. Really it’s just plain old pride. I thought back to all the times I’d unknowingly lost face or caused someone else to lose face. The effect paralyzed my relationships for a time. Every step in the culture felt fraught with the danger of my unintentionally building a wall with someone because of face.
Last weekend I attended a wedding. Half the dining room sat family and friends of the bride and groom’s parents. The other half sat the Christian friends. When it came time to toast the bride and groom the split down the middle became even more evident than the level of wine in the wine bottles. One side belted out maxims and sayings of the culture that reflect nothing personal. Prosperity! Long life! The other half bared their heart of appreciation for the individuals promising their lives together. My heart heard and my eye saw the split open like a chasm. Strong v. Soft. Closed v. Open. Tough v. Tender
I also saw the tears of the strong, closed, tough side when their soft, open, and tender children spoke face-losing words of love to their parents. Hugs welled up from deep places in the soul that could no longer be held back. I hear Asian families do not generally hug. They rarely if ever say “I love you.” Tears sprung from the eyes of tough men with crew cuts, bellowing voices, and cigarettes. Had they lost face? Not to me. I pray their wall of face will begin to crumble with this first crack.
The fear of face passed through my heart to some extent a while ago. The wedding gave me new encouragement not to believe that people want more than anything to maintain face. I don’t think they really do. I don’t think I do either because I have my face I like to keep too. It’s not unique to Asian culture. I think I (and others) really want love and our faces get in the way.
I respect my friends who step into soft, open, and tender in this culture. It’s terrifying. Their lead I endeavor follow.