A Post-Mother’s Day Post and “Losing Face”

Hand copy of well-known graphic called endless...
The endless knot, also called mystic or love knot, is a feng shui symbol representing never-ending love and unity among family members in Chinese culture.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, I had written a Mother’s Day post that came from the heart.

My many days of soul-searching were rewarded with memories that revealed themselves in full Technicolor splendor. My words were honest and truthful, as personal essays ought to be. I did share some intimate moments from my childhood but nothing I thought would color anyone’s opinion of me or my mother. Yet, something was nagging at me, like a hangnail so teensy yet so there.

When it came time to hit the ‘publish’ key, my finger froze. I couldn’t do it. I hit ‘delete’ instead. I shut down my computer and went off to wallow in a teetering bowl of Tillamook Mud Slide ice cream and a decadent afternoon nap.

A few days later, I made a new acquaintance. When she found out I was a food writer, she told me she knew a very famous food blogger and writer and had once asked her, “Does it bother you that the whole world knows every detail of your life?” The answer was, “No.”

That simple conversation was a revelation. In hindsight, I was concerned about how my mum would react to my essay (not that she reads my blog but still…), or that she might “lose face” if any of her friends or friends of friends read the piece (not that they will but still…).

As Asians, we are very concerned about “saving face,” an abstract concept that can simply be described as taking steps not to publicly humiliate oneself or others. Western culture appreciates honesty (sometimes to the point of being too in-your-face) and transparency but the opposite holds true with Asians.

As such, we never air our dirty laundry. Certain topics are so taboo they’re not even discussed behind closed doors, let alone laid bare for the prying eyes and ears of others!

I was also feeling particularly sensitive having just read Amy Chua’s contentious Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The book evoked many emotional (and verbal!) responses that I won’t get into but what I found most shocking was that despite Chua’s flagrant claims of being a very traditional Chinese parent, she’s flaunting some seriously filthy laundry for the whole entire world to ogle, rips, tears, stains, racy hot pink panties and all.

I could never do that to my family. And knowing how sensitive–and how very Asian–my mum is, I was right to err on the side of caution.

After some reflection, I decided on the following guideline *for my blog: If I thought my words may have even the slightest chance of hurting someone *close to me or making them feel uncomfortable, I would keep them to myself. (The same goes in real life, no?) My family and friends are worth much, much more than any number of hits on my blog.

What about you? Where do you draw the line when revealing details about your private life to the blogosphere? Do you have guiding principles? Please share your responses in the comments section, I’d love to hear them!

(*Addendum: I added the words in red after original publication)


8 thoughts on “A Post-Mother’s Day Post and “Losing Face”

  1. As a partially Asian person, I understand what you mean by saving face and not wanting to shame the parents. But as a writer, I feel that my best work is that which connects with people and that sometimes means showing some vulnerability.

    When putting things out into the world and especially on the Internet (which is “forever”), there is a balance one must strike. To decide what is appropriate, I ask myself if the revelation I’m writing about furthers my intended goals and if so, can I live with any potential fall out. I also look at tone. If it is something revealed in a human, honorable and reverent way, I’m much more likely to go with it than if it’s done just in spite or at the expense of someone’s feelings. Lastly, (and this sounds a little egotistical) would the world be worse off if they never knew about this revelation?

    For example, when we were going through fertility issues a few years ago, I searched high and low on the internet for information and there were many people in forums and on blogs who pored their hearts out with eyebrow-raising detail and personal insight. And that was so helpful and reassuring because I didn’t feel so odd and alone anymore. So I guess you never know who will read your stuff but it can be profound.

  2. Pat, it’s your blog and you have the right to determine whatever rules you want. As long as you think they will not affect the quality of your blog, more power to you!

  3. I’m not Asian but like you, I don’t condone airing dirty laundry in public. I won’t knowingly say or express to the public at large anything could be embarrassing to another person. The religious credo I try to follow teaches me to love my ‘neighbour as myself’. We can admit unpleasant or sordid facts to ourselves but a public broadcast of them serves no purpose. I’m a writer. I sometimes express unpleasant, unsavory situations fictionally but they neither harm nor shame any living person. Most works of fiction, hard print or film, will have a disclaimer at the beginning stating that the oeuvre is fictional and not a portrayal of real persons.

  4. Kera, I should have been more specific. You are absolutely right that to be credible writers we have to be honest and objective in our reporting. (Although there have been times when the higher-ups have had their way with my stories). I would never do otherwise. In this case, I was referring to writing on my personal blog, about family and friends close to me. Thank you for your kind words, I miss writing for the Weekly!

  5. Good question! I tend to err on the side of writing things that are going to embarrass people in my life. But… having said that… I also think our integrity and our values as a writers is in saying that the emperor has no clothes. Having said that, I try to think of ways to talk about ideas and issues without having to focusing on specific people or incidences.

    I’d love to hear what other people think…

    1. Grace, I have no qualms writing embarrassing things about my husband or my siblings for that matter. But when it comes to my parents (especially my mother!) or extended family, I have to be a little more cautious. “I try to think of ways to talk about ideas and issues without having to focusing on specific people or incidences”–that’s one way to skirt this issue but specificity and concrete examples maketh the story, no?

  6. Pat, your food writing is some of my favorite to grace the Weekly. But I’m a little surprised by your rule: “If I thought my words may have even the slightest chance of hurting someone or making them feel uncomfortable, I would keep them to myself.” How can one be an honest, credible writer who never hurts anyone’s feelings ever? That seems more public relations than journalism.

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