Monday, February 18, 2008

Saving Face

When first introduced to the principle of “saving face”, I believe nearly everyone realized that they had somehow understood it all along but never knew it had a name. It is a very familiar situation for people to find themselves in. Until we discussed it in class, however, it had never occurred to me that saving face for someone else is often equally as motivated by an often unacknowledged need to save face for yourself. Just the other day a friend of mine was moaning over her ankle which she had jammed earlier that day. (I haven’t asked anyone’s permission to tell stories about them so I’m avoiding the use of names) Another friend of mine heard that she was upset about it and came to help by elevating it saying this is often something that helps. My first friend agreed, but when the second friend left a little while later and my injured friend’s boyfriend offered to keep holing her leg up for her she immediately said, “Oh, no don’t! That made it ten times worse I was just saying it felt better so she wouldn’t feel bad.” At this point I considered that because she is such a sweet girl, she not only wanted to save face for our friend by making her think she had helped, but she was also saving face for herself because she is always so sweet to everyone that she wouldn’t want to appear unconcerned with other’s feelings by not saving face for them. Even in our American culture which places such great emphasis on the individual, it is frowned upon for you not to spare another person some embarrassment. But where the difference is between our culture’s approach to saving face and another culture that is less individualistic (at least in my personal theory), is that we seem to think it’s alright to tell others about a person’s mistake when they are no longer there. For instance, my friend spared another girl the embarrassment of knowing she was making matters worse while she was still in the room, but after she left she told us what had really happened. This makes me wonder if collectivist cultures would be more likely to continue saving face for that person even in their absence. That is something I would like to find out.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Communication: Indirect and Imperfect

There are reasons why we cannot ever say exactly what we mean. We all want people to say what they mean and we want others to know exactly what we mean when we speak to them. I believe it can be agreed that this is a universal desire- to understand and be understood. But in all the centuries of humanity we have never perfected the craft and there are a lot of causes. For starters, language is comprised of words which are only symbols to represent other things- they are not the actual thoughts or feelings we are trying to express. Therefore, as symbols are not interpreted the same by all individuals, there is nearly no way to be sure our thoughts are getting across.

But there are other more delicate reasons why we cannot to say what we mean. This entire blog is the result of a train of thought set off by a conversation I observed between my friend and her boyfriend last night. It was her birthday and we were all going out to dinner to celebrate. On the way her boyfriend called and said he didn’t think he was coming. In a matter of minutes they were in a full fledged fight and she yelled, “Fine! Just stay at home! I don’t want you to come so don’t!” but we all knew it was of vital importance to her that he showed up. After several phone calls of varying levels of frustration, he ended up at dinner. Everything had blown over and we were having a laugh about the whole thing when he asked in exasperation, “Why don’t girls ever just say what they mean?! Why do you say you don’t want me to come when you do?” to which my friend answered, “I told you that I always mean the opposite of what I say.” But that isn’t what she meant either. “Why can’t you just tell me what you want?” he asked again. It occurred to me just then that in such situations it is impossible to say what you want because what she actually wanted was for him to decide on his own that he wanted to be with her- not because she or any other outside force had made him feel obligated to. By telling him, that would have made it impossible for him to do so.

It is an interesting thing to me how many situations there must be like this in which we don’t realize the real problem. Communicational errors in many cases can be corrected but what can we do about the delicate ones like this? I’m not sure there is much to be done about them.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Identity Scripts

In our discussions of scripts I’ve been trying for some time to identify what activities have been “scripted” to me and my siblings by our parents. I was sure that we must have had something like that growing up but I could never think of anything until I realized that I was only searching for affirmative commands- for instance, “this family respects tradition”. I was looking for things that they told us we are to do, but as I considered further, I realized that most of my family’s scripts are in the form of things that we do not do. My parents most often taught us these things indirectly, but they are all things like “We do not tell lies” or “this family never mistreats other people” and other such motherly “don’ts” that children hear all the time but not necessarily delivered with the same fervor as that of my mom and dad. To be honest, the only real script I can think of that wasn’t in the “we don’t do this” form is “We are Christians” –which it seems was the one from which all other scripts stemmed. That is the real reason that we don’t skip church or lie or break the law or treat adults disrespectfully or hurt our siblings or do any of those other untouchable things. “We are to be a good reflection of the God who saved us.” So I suppose it all really boils down to that. Poor things would have saved themselves a lot of breath if they’d just said that all along… ;)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cultural Context

As I continue through this course I’ve been noticing more and more how often I confuse the notes I’ve taken in anthropology class with the notes I’ve taken in interpersonal communications. It is so interesting to me how incredibly interwoven these two subjects are. Anthropology is a shockingly broad field of study and so, for the sake of simplicity, is broken into four major categories- one of which is entirely dedicated to anthropological linguistics. I thought at first that someone must have over-estimated the influence of culture on language and vice versa until I thought harder about the fact that every culture in the entire world uses some means of communication which is not only effected but molded and structured by its cultural context.

In studying this section on perception I began to think about how every other factor aside from culture was also affected by culture. The culture of your social class often effects how developed your cognitive abilities are based on the level and quality of education you’ve received. This also affects what roles we play in society or as a member of a family because a much lower class family may depend more upon the income of the children than an upper or middle class family. Also the culture affects how people in your social class are treated which is a form of the generalized other that changes our views of ourselves. Therefore, all other elements are formed by culture.

Learning things like this is a great deal of why I want so badly to go into anthropology.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hiden Fingerprints

The section on attribution was of particular interest to me. After reading about the self-serving bias the term seemed to linger in my mind as I went about my business with friends throughout the evening and I began to notice that people seem always to think or at least profess themselves to be a great deal more humble than they are. This is not necessarily a problem of pride in most cases. But out of what I would expect must be fulfillment of the expectation of society (which is to speak more lowly of yourself than you might otherwise) we nearly never say anything too positive about ourselves. However, as I remember it, of all the conversations I’ve had with fellow students about having failed classes or tests- and there have been many- I can hardly recall one in which the person confessed the blame for it to be their own. I myself almost without exception avoid attributing my failures on my own irresponsibility or inadequacy. It seems to me that in many senses this shows a much healthier self-image than is usually expressed.

It is an interesting thing to me that if we all seem to have this built-in sense of self-worth we feel the need to counter-act it. It is understandable that an over-developed version of this would be seen as a threat because every form of evil seems ultimately to stem back to selfishness (for what truly ungodly act was ever motivated by anything but self-gratification?) which is the inevitable byproduct of an overgrown self-esteem. In fact, you might call selfishness self-adoration in its full grown form. So this, we may understand is worth preventing. But we know that the opposite, self-distain, when full grown is only pride as well because you are still preoccupied with yourself just in a negative light. This can be equally as destructive but in entirely different ways.

So where is the balance? Lord knows we’re nowhere near understanding that. But we can be sure that He also is the only one who can set our hearts right. On that, at least, we can rely. But , in the meantime, I suppose that if we are of such great value to Him, it is not so unbelievable that he should place in our hearts some sort of mechanism which tells us we are worth more than what a few failures may say about us- for whether we know God’s love or not, we bear his finger prints.