The Concept of Face
The face is said to be the most exposed part of our body. It is the first thing that people see at the first instance of meeting someone. At times, it is the only thing that most people base their perceptions about someone. For this reason, it seems fitting that any preparation to look your best is necessary for overall presentation.
It’s fascinating to discover that the idea of the face as the embodiment of an individual’s status among one’s peers is the determining factor of public reputation in most Asian societies. Honor seems to be the driving force to which standards of behavior are met and accorded to. As such, the themes of most notable Asian films are peppered with scenarios that test or exhibit the beliefs and principles of that particular culture. Examples of these are seen in movies such as The Karate Kid, Crouching Tiger: Hidden Dragon and The Joy Luck Club. These movies demonstrate how Asian cultures give precedence to how one preserves his or her integrity based on the old customs passed on to them by their elders. If one is to observe these films closely, one would be able to deduce that family is generally at the epicenter in Asian society and the interplay of politics is influenced by the role that powerful families play in their local communities.
In some Asian cultures, the emphasis placed on honor is so immense that one is even expected to take his or her own life instead of accepting failure or defeat in the presence of those whom he or she considers to have robbed his or her dignity. Such is the case in Japan wherein the ancient custom of Harakiri from the Samurai tradition has inspired many groups and individuals to commit suicide in order to preserve one’s honor. Although this kind of custom is not anymore encouraged in modern day Japan, there are still some who practice it and it has occasionally made the headlines.
In some Asian countries like the Philippines, there is a similar concept of face called hiya or shame, which dictates how an individual should behave or act in certain situations or in the presence of other people. The Filipino practice is an unspoken expectation that should be sternly followed in order to avoid creating a bad name or reputation for the family. For example, in family or communal gatherings, especially in the rural areas, people are expected to bring a token or a gift for the host as it signifies their gratification for the extended invitation. Likewise, the host of the party is required to invite everyone in their immediate vicinity since that would make the host appear approachable and trusted. Another example is the expectation that the young ones should show their respect for their elders by allowing themselves to be blessed by the elders as they approach them, and speaking in deference by using the words po and opo in addressing the elders.
Another term that is linked with this is utang na loob or the service of gratitude. The concept is said to instill a sort of natural shame in an individual whenever one does a favor or is at the receiving end of it, placing people in their rightful places. Failure to repay the favor by any means would bring about shame to the individual and his or her family. Usually, this practice could be observed among adults who have chosen or are tasked to take care of their aging parents since reversal of the roles are naturally part of the human cycle. As adults, they are obliged to give back to their parents in any way that they can.
The precepts of face in Asian society may be termed differently but all are hinged to a common perception of sensitivity toward others. This perception embraces the dynamism found in family relationships that affects communal activities.
From the standpoint of face, one is able to determine the value of an individual through the connections he or she has established and the traditional values that person has upheld. The ability to successfully incorporate such expectations in modern day living connotes a respect for traditional values and the acceptance of authority from the elders.