Wednesday, May 26, 2010

East vs. West on apology

Saving face is a very unique Eastern practice that I don't know where exactly it came from. However, it has become a very natural behavior that shared among all walks of lives regardless of their age, gender, wealth, education, etc. As long as they are 'immersed' in the Eastern culture, somehow they are brought into the 'face-saving' mode. One typical example is my dad, I've never heard him said 'I'm sorry' or even apologized for anything in his life. Certainly, he is no saint and he made mistakes. Being the head of the family, it is just not in his gene to apologize to his family. When I got older, I don't really care if he apologized or ever, cuz, I don't expect that from him and it doesn't really matter to me. Don't get me wrong that I'm not here to criticize my dad. I simply cite him as a personal example that I see which is very common in the society, especially among the older generations.

The younger generations are seemed to be a bit different, perhaps it has to do with the fact that 'public apology' is a common practice in the West. With the power of media, they saw public figures saying sorry in news conferences or in the press. They are exposed to the idea of public apology. But, that's only confined to the public figures. Young people these days are too spoiled and corrupted by the twisted values of their parents that many of them don't even know they are wrong. So, what's the point of saying sorry if they don't even know what's wrong with them!

Come to think of it, 'saving face' and 'admitting wrong' are not certainly contradicted each other. Japanese are famous for deep bows in public for their wrong doings, but they also adopt face-saving as well. I guess one thing that make them a bit different from us is that they can clearly distinguish the difference between 'admission of defeat' and 'apology for wrong doing'. The former is after trying your best to do the right thing but still fail in achieving your goal, then bravely admitting such fact. It may still include an apology in the speech, saying something like 'sorry for not trying hard enough (which may not be true)', and 'sorry for causing disappointments to supporters (which is for being polite rather)'. However, the main point is to bring the fact of defeat to the public, then get is over with. The best part is the aftermath, by putting the 'emotion of guilt or shame' of the past in the past, they can focus and improve again in future to strike the gold. However, 'apology for wrong doing' is different. It simply means what has been done is wrong! aka. I screwed up! Japanese does apologize for such, which would go the the same stream as the previous - they take the blame and move on.

On the contrary, the Chinese are not custom to do neither. Some of them may have the heart, but not enough gut to do it in public. Usually, exceptions only happen to those who studied or brought up aboard in the Western culture which views public apology as a common practice. Still, they may only apologize to the close ones or in private, unless their immediate environment adopt such practice. For example, in some western companies or institutions. Western culture just doesn't share the same level of face-saving belief as we do. It doesn't mean that they are shameless. They just can take the fact as fact. Perhaps, it has something to do with Christianity which teaches forgiveness. Eastern culture does preach forgiveness as well, but I think the extent of which is certainly not enough. We perhaps just don't like to let the past goes, so we may forgive at this moment, but we don't forget. People are more inclined to remember what we did wrong then how sincere we were in our apology. Maybe, that has something to do to our stubbornness in admitting we are wrong regardless how wrong we are. Such belief is so widespread and shared to a point that authority figures in our governments, businesses, schools, and even religious organizations, would not apologize for their faults, as long as they are not illegal, moral wrong doings are being hidden. For them, silence is truly golden. They not only keep their mouths shut, they also want to shut the media up from investigating, reporting, and chasing them for their wrong doing! The saving face belief even drives people to cover their wrong doings with lies or additional wrong doings. All I can say is that...what a shameful mess!

I'm just an insignificant member of the society that can't change much. However, I would practice of apology in my home to my wife and my kid. Not sure what difference will that make, but I do feel good at least and have a good night sleep afterwards. It is not an excuse for making mistakes again, but at least I would put a stop of them and hopefully would do better tomorrow....

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