How far would you go to save face?

A girl covering her face out of shame.

Can you see a connection between committing suicide and “keeping up with the joneses”?

Or between going deeply in debt for a lavish ceremony, and refusing to admit defeat in an argument?

The connection is that each of these things is probably motivated by a desire to save face.

What is saving face?


In the Chinese language, the word “face” has the connotation of “honor.” So to save face means to “preserve one’s honor, or self-respect,” especially when threatened with “shame.”

According to Webster’s New International Dictionary,

to save one’s face” means “to conceal one’s defeat, discomfiture, or loss of prestige, by some pretense.”

It therefore amounts to a lie. Its basis is pride, a fear of having one’s ego hurt.

It refuses to acknowledge a fault or to face up to an issue. It denies the need for correction or discipline. Self is right, no matter what the circumstances.

‘Running with the crowd’ is the custom today, also, and many will go to any dishonest ends in order to maintain an outward appearance of respectability in the community.

They must “save face” and “keep face” with their neighbors at all costs

‘Face saving’ is rooted in emotion, not principle, and it often causes its victim to withdraw into himself or to shun association with the very friends who could really help in the hour of need

Is this wrong? Well, maintaining self-respect is not necessarily wrong. Having self-respect helps us to keep ourselves clean, reliable and honest.

Who wants to be thought of as dirty, unreliable and dishonest?

Saving face goes beyond that, however. It suggests that our reputation or honor is the most important thing.

To avoid shame, or to save face, a person would be ready to make any sacrifice.

At one time in Japan, some even committed hara-kiri, a very unpleasant form of suicide, when they were threatened with shame.

Would you go as far as that to save face?

What people do for a “face”


In the East, some people still commit suicide when they feel their “face” is threatened, although usually no longer doing so by means of hara-kiri.

Others make other sacrifices, too.

On a Buddhist feast day, in some areas, it is common for families to spend their whole week’s food allowance on one ceremonial meal so as not to lose face before their neighbors.

In other places, a man may take a visitor out to the most expensive restaurant in town to entertain him.

The man probably cannot afford this, and likely the visitor would rather eat in the home. But the host feels that he has to do this in order to save face.

In one land, it is the custom that when a man’s daughter gets married, he provides a furnished house for the newlyweds.

The father gains “face” if he furnishes it very well. Hence, some individuals go deeply in debt to do this. Usually, the bridegroom will give a dowry for his new wife.

To gain “face,” the young man may also go in debt to give a large dowry.

However, the bride’s father, who is possibly already in debt after having provided the furnished house, will likely give the dowry back.

He would not want to lose face by accepting the money.

Would you go that far to save face?

Saving face a worldwide tendency


The tendency to want to save face is seen not only in the Orient; it is world wide. Take, for example, what is called “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Consider a person who owns an automobile that is perfectly suited to his needs.

One day his neighbor buys a new, expensive model. The person who was quite satisfied with his vehicle before, now becomes dissatisfied. Why?

The person is ashamed of it. His neighbor’s new one makes his car look old. So he buys a new automobile that he neither needs nor can afford.

His motivation, being ashamed in front of his neighbors, is quite similar to that which drove certain Orientals to commit hara-kiri (suicide).

Then again, have you ever felt angry when someone offered you counsel or correction? Did you think to yourself:

That’s not fair! Who is he to be criticizing me anyway? He’s not so great himself!”

You were justifying yourself. Why? Because your pride or honor has been touched.

Sometimes a person may make a big sacrifice in an effort to save face.

Perhaps one makes a mistake. He cannot bring himself to admit this to others and have the matter cleared up.

When the wrongdoing comes to light anyway and other people discuss it with him, he denies the whole thing.

Because of shame or stubbornness, he is even willing to even endangering his relationship with others. Would you go that far to save face?

Why does one reason this way? Could it be that his sense of injured dignity is more important to him than the restoration of good relations?

In other words, does his “face,” or honor, demand that others be made to suffer?

Have you ever met someone who refuses to admit that he is wrong, even when the facts are crystal clear to everyone else?

Or do you know an individual who dislikes taking suggestions, who acts hurt and offended when he makes a suggestion that is not accepted by others, or who is stubborn and immovable in his opinions?

Are you acquainted with someone who is overly proud of his prestigious job or his higher education, or, contrariwise, is ashamed because he does not have such an education?

All these characteristics can be manifestations of a concern for “face,” or personal honor.

So be alert to the dangers of saving face. We need to cultivate qualities that will help us to overcome the desire to save face.

What are they? Well, honesty is one.

If we value honesty, we will not want to put on a false front. This may be difficult.

That is why we may also need humility and courage to help us to stay honest, both with ourselves and with others.

Additionally, humility will overcome the false pride that makes us want to save face in the first place. Yes, courage, honesty and humility will help us to avoid the trap of saving face.

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