“In China, “face” or mianxi, was a concept that a westerner like Fortune did not instinctively understand, describing as it does the prestige and reputation one gains from every human interaction…”Face” expressed a person’s position within his or her network and was the mechanism by which Chinese assessed their obligations: which orders to obey, which favors to grant, and which supplications and apologies to make. For All the Tea in China– Sarah Rose

When I read this book, I thought it was an interesting thing to ponder- In my mind, it’s sort of like, treat the people who treat you well with respect and kindness and gratitude, and treat the people who are mean to you with meanness back… But I’d like to know how you interpret this… What do you think the concept of “face” represents?

My only glitch in this is, does this process make you beholden to people who aren’t necessarily nice, but just nice for a price?

Example- The guy on the corner sells fake watches. If you are nice to him, respect his territory and don’t tell on him, he is nice in return. But your neighbor tells an unsuspecting tourist not to buy the watch because while the “model” he shows you is operational, the one he actually sells to you is empty of mechanism. The fake watch salesman does everything he can to make your neighbors life miserable. In theory, what good is warning the tourist who lives somewhere else? That person can’t save you from the day to day…

In theory, I know we should be spreading sunshine and lollipops and unicorns to everyone. However- if you open up your phone to news headlines, you know that just isn’t how life works… Just because you treat people with kindness doesn’t mean that’s how the world will treat you back. Remember the adage nice guys finish last– it’s a “thing” for a reason…

I know I’m spinning lots of plates in the air in this post, but how do you determine how to treat people?

Are you respectful until they give you a reason not to be?

Are you cautious until they prove they are worthy of your time?

Do you follow the group and make your decision based on how others treat the person?

Do you stereotype? (FYI- stereotype can mean assuming that someone who lives in a rural community and happens to go to church is a card carrying Trump supporter, or someone living in NYC is a Communist)

Respond to any, or all of my thoughts and questions, or toss out some questions of your own. This is a thinking exercise, so every answer and thought is valuable in thinking about this subject:

Discuss:

56 thoughts on “Face Time

  1. I have two ethics that I’m constantly striving to meet: 1) improve any situation I’m in, whether it be an interaction or a physical space and 2) Locus of control – I can only affect my reactions to people or situations. This is all to say, I am responsible for what I bring and what I take. It’s not easy to do that in the face of rudeness or anger or inequities, but no one ever softened their stance or felt better-inclined towards others when yelled at. It’s human nature to dig in and harden oneself when attacked, so I try to keep that in mind when engaging with someone I disagree with. Despite my conscientiousness, I still fail on a regular basis, but constantly checking myself and working at it has been useful.

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    1. I think it’s very hard not to react upon facing an assault, whether it’s verbal or physical. To be fair, I’m guessing it’s survival instinct, so it’s hardwired…the whole Darwin thing. And if someone were attacking my daughter, whether physical or verbal, there is no way I’m standing by. Whether that’s smart is another thing

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      1. I think I was talking more about verbal interactions. Physical is something different to me and would be comprised of de-escalation/defensive methods. I’m trained in self-defense/martial arts so it strikes me as very concrete decision-making versus the every day interactions that might be unpleasant. Fortunately, my daughter is also trained, so we’d have each other’s backs!

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      2. Of course I have an anecdote. I was just reading another blog where the blogger got a new job and had to watch one of those HR training videos, and there was a thing about commenting on someone’s name/mispronouncing it. Some people get really offended by this. My husband and I were out to dinner the other night and the hostess mispronounced his name…and I wondered how many would have gotten insulted over this very innocent mistake.

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      3. Though, when writing fiction, this would be a great little thing to show what type of person someone is…it could be a little aside…they handle it well or they’re an ass about it…

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  2. I try to do the right thing regardless of how other people treat me, but the right thing might mean minding my own business. No need to eat out the petty criminal next door unless they’re truly hurting someone, like their children.

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  3. Is this the concept of “saving face”? Are you familiar with that? I’ve always associated that phrase with doing nothing that would bring disrespect or disgrace to oneself or family/significant networks in your life. Thus the stories of people taking their own lives if they perceive they have “lost face”.
    In my own case I am warily cautious when meeting anyone new. I will respect them as long as I feel I am being respected. If I have ongoing concerns I will distance myself from that person if possible but that depends a lot on why you know them and the setting.

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    1. This book didn’t mention that specifically, she had narrowed it to this specific guy (the guy who brought tea from China to India) but I’m assuming it’s part of it. I puzzled over this for a few days after reading the book and thought it would be interesting to bat around

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      1. I see “saving face” as a vastly cultural concept. Western culture is very different as we know. It is about the individual and our best interest, not the group. I think we can assert that individual versus group ideals are in major conflict right now if nothing else .

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      2. Are you thinking in terms of members being coerced into joining, staying with or trying to leave? The threat of harm to themselves or more likely family and friends versus loyalty to “the group”? My mind never went in that direction initially but I read the quote again–interesting to ponder that idea!

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      3. In theory, if one group encroaches on another’s territory, whether by let’s just say word or deed, then said group would feel the need to retaliate. You can’t sell drugs on that corner, you beat up my number 2, etc

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      4. Ah yes, the indoctrination, the loyalty to code, the seeking of revenge– but ultimately it is the many who are (for whatever reason) bowing to the individual even in a gang or crime family. Everyone is beholden to the original individual, the leader and that leader only cares about their own bottom line, their success and their “face” so to speak. Everyone else is ultimately disposable. So is the lesson to only respect yourself to begin with, to hold your loyalty only to yourself, thus giving only superficial outward respect to others? You play the game so to speak when you have to…

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  4. This is interesting, a good point about the seller of watches, and how people react with the knowledge of his actions. There are different types of intelligence, be they “book smart,” “street smart,” possessing great creativity, or having the ability to ponder deeply and think abstractly. We probably all have known those who can be described as “highly educated dumba****.” These are individuals who may possess a high degree in education, and are intelligent, yet seem to lack common sense and logical reasoning skills. There are others who have a philosopher’s mind, an analytical mind, possess musical genius, yet have physically demanding &/or go-no-where-jobs.
    Assumptions & stereotyping can certainly be incorrect, and sometimes not. I knew a waitress that was occasionally treated as a servant-sort of person. In reality, she was a Blackbelt in Karate, a certified CPA, and had spent some time in dental school. I think she was indecisive about which direction she wanted to go. She also was one of the best waitresses I ever met, with a keen sense of self and situational awareness. She was a special person in my life. I asked one day, why she chose to be a waitress. It can be very demanding, fast-paced work, so I was curious why she didn’t have a “desk job.” She replied, “Because I like waitressing.” She wasn’t a dumb person that couldn’t get a better job, as some might assume.
    I know a woman who was on the honor roll throughout nearly all her schooling, but she had no “street smarts.” I had to (possibly) protect her (us) in the past, by saying, “C’mon, let’s go,” and once, literally pulling her away from someone, because she allows very close proximity to strangers in parking lots. She thinks every smiling stranger wants to be her friend. Which is where profiling may be a useful tool. A man in a suit can be the devil, but sometimes one knows the guy with tats up his neck and a teardrop under his eye, acting strangely, may not be good company.
    I once (years ago) approached a gas station attendant to pay for gas. He said, “Whatcha need, a pack of Marlboro reds?” I grinned and said, 20 ($) on 4 (pump #, or whichever it was) will do.” He assumed a young white woman would smoke reds. I actually knew many who did. I wasn’t offended at all, I get why he said it, and he wasn’t being any negative way, just stereo typing, which I think many of us do instinctively from time to time. It’s not the same as judgement, or prejudice, or racist. Consider how many criminal cases have been solved by detectives’ uses of profiling. People can be predictable, and yet assumptions are not always accurate.

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  5. My understanding on “face” in the Far East is that it’s about ensuring those who can do good *for* you (rather than *to* you) are prioritised, and that you (and your people) don’t do anything which allows your status to be diminished. It’s about punishing (or withdrawing favour from) those who are of lower status and reputation to you if they don’t show you the appropriate level of respect.

    As Deb mentions above, I think it’s where the saying saving face comes from.

    I’ve not looked any of this up btw, just my understanding of the culture from having lived in the East.

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  6. The golden rule is how I try to treat people. Am I always successful, no. Some people definitely make that rule harder to practice. But as far as “minding your own business” goes, there is a time and place for that and there are also times when you need to and should step in. I think too often we use the “mind your own business” as an excuse to not get involved.

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  7. I am definitely respectful until given a reason not to be. If common courtesy can’t be reciprocated then I’m not going to feed into the situation by offering something that’s not returned. Sometimes people need to be called out on their behavior and under certain circumstances I will do that. Dealing with people has become so complicated and I get tired of that.

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  8. Excellent questions. I treat everyone with respect having decided how they may treat me has nothing to do with how I will treat them. Though I must say that I get a bit of a wicked thrill when they are confused , stunned, surprised. Now, I must say that if someone I love, as a child, is intentionally hurt by someone who should know better all the armies of hell will not stand in my way.

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  9. I don’t think I really understand the Chinese face concept. From the quote it did not sound like to beget meanness with meanness, though. I’m striving to be kind in all situations. I will avert my eyes sometimes if someone is not being entirely honest, unless it really is my business to intervene. Caveat emptor! Nothing wrong with spreading good karma as a default, but I don’t necessarily want to be beholden to everyone who does me the tiniest of favors.

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  10. I generally treat everyone respectfully no matter what. Being a teacher for so long I’ve been known to do a bit too much explaining, rather than reprimanding. I always start out assuming most people are nice. However, I was a bit of a mama bear. I was a divorced single mom and if I saw my son when he wAs little playing a sport and one of the dad’s criticized my kid because he struck out or hit a fly ball I jumped in his face and reprimanded. I’ll never forget when my 49 year old son was five I signed him up for T ball. I remember one time this big guy commented that my kid struck out ( at T ball) and I ran over to the guy and he said, “I’m not gonna talk to you where’s your husband? He needs to teach your son how to play ball. ( I was divorced at the time). So I said,” My husband? I don’t have one but maybe your wife can teach you some manners and put you on diet.”. ( I knew he was a doctor and he was grossly overweight) Now, keep in mind I was in my 20’s and it was the 70’s. Nobody was going to talk down to me! All the other moms applauded! Lol But I defended my kid. I’m normally not rude. His son and my son went to the same schools and my son always got better grades at award assemblies. But the best was in high school when both our sons were up for scholar athlete and mine won in the entire district. I finally went up to him and told him how he humiliated my kid and embarrassed him in T ball. He didn’t remember. But I reminded by saying that I was glad he lost weight because it was unhealthy. Then he turned red, and apologized to me. He remembered. So I kinda got my revenge. But other than someone attacking people I care about I’m very diplomatic and try to help everyone.

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      1. We all do. Lol I think the word face in the context you wrote about is like being two faced. Or the comedy and tragedy masks. Many people wear masks and their faces do not represent who they really are deep down.

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      2. You know LA in reading this blog tonight I’m thinking so much about my days as a young single mother and the struggles of women raising children on their own. You reminded me of that story from when my son was a little boy playing ball. Tomorrow I go in the morning for more surgery. That little blonde curly haired boy I protected from crazy bullies. And the times I sat in on father- son events in elementary school because his dad wasn’t around. Tomorrow I have more surgery. (He took me last Friday for pre op tests at the hospital) and tomorrow morning I will be leaning on him as he walks me into the hospital for another surgery. What goes around comes around. All those times I was there for him and boy is he there for me now. Our children never forget how much we love them. And he has been my strength during my darkest times. Who would have thought…, He’s a tall strapping man now, bald, the only curls are on his children. But in my eyes, while I see the man he is. I also see the little boy who held my hand in the 1970’s waiting to meet Spider-Man. (Who was just some guy in suit). But to a 4 year old curly haired little boy it was a magical moment. My son continues to bring me those magical moments. His beard is gray, his curls are long gone. But he’s still my little guy and will hold me up.
        Sorry ,just a bit emotional tonight. Peace and love!

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  11. I think ultimately we create the contexts we want to live and thrive in, and the people we want to associate with. Treat those with what is in your heart, if they reciprocate the same, wonderful, if not, then they are not supposed to be in your scene. That’s what I get.

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  12. Not sure if or how this is related, but I tend to take people at face value unless/until they give me reason to think otherwise. I guess that means I treat people how I feel they deserve to be treated based on their actions?

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  13. I treat everyone with respect (I think). I know a lot of people think you have to get respect to receive respect, but I don’t think that way. I also believe what you’ve described is along those lines. If someone isn’t kind to me or whatever, I’m still nice/kind to them, because ultimately, I’m not engaging in a certain way to receive a specific behavior from the person.

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    1. I admit if someone doesn’t treat me nicely I have a hard time being nice back to them. But I don’t like someone who is nice just to get something. Anecdote time. We were on vacation a few years ago and I’m an avid picture taker. Some guy comes up to me and says he’ll take a picture of me and my family, and I said no thanks, because I do not love being in photos and I take enough of my family. Afterwards, my daughter said he asked me so that I would take a pic of him and his family. And I said to my daughter well he should just ask me to take the picture. Be up front if your motives instead of being quasi passive aggressive. I totally would have taken his picture but I didn’t need to be buttered up

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