21 May 2011

Saving Face for Another

Have you ever thought about what it means, protecting another's reputation... considering them before thinking about yourself?

Since moving to Niger, I have... a lot more... be it the reputation of my husband, one of my kids, my boss, an employee, a pastor or his wife, someone in the church with whom I might disagree...

Based on my observations and experience, in the "West," people tend to be more blunt - saying what they think or believe to be true without reservation, even if it means the discomfort or embarrassment of another.

In Niger, on the other hand, people avoid saying anything that will bring discomfort, embarrassment or even disappointment to the listener...

~including a shop owner saying he'll have an item in next week... even if that is far less than likely... because he might sincerly hope to have said product available, guaranteeing your pleasure and future patronage... next week.

~or perhaps the repair man who tells you that your electric piano can be fixed...  just have to find the pieces in the market and they are surely there... and he'll get right on it... yet several months later, the piano still sits.

~a vet guaranteeing the effectiveness of a certain medication to help your sick pet... and then the well-loved creature continues to fail and eventually needs to be put down.

I remember clearly on time. Safana, my friend and who used to be our house helper in earlier terms, was horribly uncomfortable when I put her in an awkward situation. Someone came to the door, asking for help. I couldn't understand the Hausa and asked her to translate. After hearing what the person "needed" (in these types of circumstances, it is often questionable whether it is a true need or a scam as someone looks for easy money), I asked her, in front of the person, if she thought it was true or not. She couldn't answer and begged off not being sure she understood everything the person was saying because: 1) Even if she knew the lady at the door was being untruthful, culturally, she couldn't directly confront her by saying she didn't believe her story in front of her, and 2) She didn't want to see me taken advantage of and subsequently embarrassed and frustrated by being taken in by yet another scam.

At first, I found this frustrating... angering (well, actually, sometimes, I still do). In my mindset, it was simply deceitful...

But, I'm slowly learning that it isn't deceitful... at least not in this world... any more than choosing not to say you don't like your friend's newest haircolor... or saying "Wow! That's a different color for you!" instead of "Yuck!" is untruthful back in Michigan. It is simply the local version of tact. When one of the ladies in church hears a response like what the shop owner I described above said, they don't hear, "That person promised to have that available for me next week." Instead, they hear, "That person wants to sell that item to me as soon as it is available. When it becomes available, she or he will set aside and let me know - and probably give me credit, too."

Words are funny, aren't they? The same words said by the same person but heard by two different people can mean two totally different things and can elicit two or more totally different responses.

Slowly, I'm learning to appreciate the fact that culturally,  protecting someone's public image and reputation, as well as striving to please them, are almost always more important than declaring black and white truth.

I recently experienced a different, but somewhat similar situation. When Mary Michelle was sick with typhoid earlier this month, the doctor was having an exceedingly difficult time - first drawing blood (5 pokes later...) and then flushing the port so that they could get the IV meds started. After having experienced IV treatments several times at this point in my motherhood journey, I've learned to recognize just a bit about IVs. I could see exactly what the doctor was doing wrong. I could have said something immediately - but I chose to wait. I ended up restraining  a very upset, distressed little girl with a very sore arm for at least 10 minutes... which felt like forever... while the doctor and his assistant tried to get this IV going. I wanted to point out their error, but I felt the Holy Spirit quietly impressing on my heart that although this was uncomfortable for Mary Michelle, although it was frustrating for me... respecting the doctor's authority, education and position, especially with others around, was more important because in the eternal scheme of things, testimony and relationship were significantly larger issues than a few tears, irritation, discomfort and my desire that things be done just right for my/our convenience - and a head-on collision with the truth of the doctor's error might have damaged a lot more than just his pride. Protecting this doctor's reputation and not shaming him in front of other clients and colleagues was the bigger issue, even though it didn't feel that way in my heart as I held my very sick, sad and sore baby.

God slowly continues to teach me that grace, gentleness and laying aside what I consider to be my rights is more often the narrow path that He'd have me to follow than my "prophetic" desires to proclaim truth and confront error. That is not an easy truth for me to swallow... yet I'm so thankful that more often than not, that is how He deals with me.

What do you think?
What might you have done in a similar situation?

And, I must add, with the exception of those few moments, Mary Michelle received superb and caring medical attention throughout our most recent medical moments.

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