Trump Ignores “Face” at Our Peril – North Korea Not Like NYC

If America desires influence in Asia, we must understand the sensitive parts of their cultures, that may not be as sensitive in ours.

President Trump’s aggressive, public, verbal attacks on North Koreas may play well in the USA, but they are more harmful and dangerous in Asia than most Americans think. Regardless of how you see Kim Jong -un, he is Asian; you must take Asian culture into account.

Asian culture developed the concept of “face” over thousands of years. A person’s “face,” sums up their standing in all parts of life; it is much more important than our concept of reputation; it is who they are as a person.

Most average American’s discovered Asian culture in World War II.  We were confronted with totally foreign, Japanese ideas and customs, including seppuku, the noble term for honorable, ritual suicide by samurai (the term familiar to most Americans is, hari-kari, a term used by Japanese commoners.).

Decades later, we are motivated to observe Japanese etiquette socially, and in business; we are challenged to understand what “face” means, and how it works.  “Giving face,” “losing face,” and “saving face” are extremely important in every part of daily life.

“Giving face” means acknowledging, honoring and giving credit to another, while minimizing one’s own importance, and deprecating one’s role in the matter with humility.

“Losing face” means being, publicly slighted, criticized, ridiculed, or humiliated. The caustic, demeaning language Americans commonly tolerate could evoke suicide among some Asians sensitive to “losing face.”

We only recently see such sensitivity among youth immersed in social media.  “Shaming,” and “cyberbullying,” are examples of the new American version of “losing face.” Ironically, Facebook is a big part of this phenomenon

“Saving face” means recovering positive standing, dignity, and honor with offsetting actions and expressions; for example, smoothing over mistakes, and minimizing losses.  In  “face” culture, even adversaries seek to give tokens and acknowledgements that do not dishonor each other.  Bragging or ridiculing are considered ignoble, vicious, low-class breaches of etiquette.

President Trump and Kim Jong-un have lost face, in the eyes of many Asians and Americans.   Both have established “low-face” reputations already.

Kim Jong-un is feared, more than respected, as a man who would assassinate rivals, and punish those who would embarrass him, or challenge his godhead.

Donald Trump is disrespected for his feral attacks, predictable, public taunts, and churlish name-calling.

The brash, threatening exchanges, threats, and personal, demeaning attacks, slash at the “face” of these vainglorious, egoistic adversaries; the use of “Rocket Man,” and “dotard,”are examples of the escalating, vulgar, and unforgivable personal affronts they have exchanged.

Both men must somehow find a face-saving way to end their disputes, or they will escalate without reason.

First, they must clear the “face” board; no more personal attacks, minimum admissions of error, and tolerable acceptance of blame.

Second, they must engage in building trust and agreement, without losing face.  For the most part, that means letting diplomats forge whatever agreements it will take to tamp down this “monkey dance,” and reduce the threat of nuclear havoc.

Third, they must give and save face to hold agreements in place.

 

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