Family, Duty, Honour

I just read the most interesting story I’ve seen so far on /r/relationships.

With update here:

TL;DR: OP is about to have dinner at her mother’s house, but overhears her stepfather calling her husband and her, “The pig and his little cunt”. “Pig” in this case referring to something like “capitalist pig”. The other guests chuckle, and her mother doesn’t defend OP, nor say anything about the stepfather’s rude language. Her husband helped some of her family members (some of whom were not at this dinner) get good jobs and good houses, so she is afraid that he will take that away if she tells him.

She ends up telling him, and he ends getting those family members fired, and the others evicted. Her mother calls telling OP that one of their family members lost their job, and asked if OP’s husband could do anything about it. OP ends up telling her mum that her husband got him fired and mentioned what she overheard.

I was incredibly shocked when I read about his response, and a lot of the comments echoed my sentiment. It seems really extreme to be punishing other members of the family (e.g. uncles and aunts) because of something the stepfather said. Plus, the comment wasn’t even that bad, and losing a job or housing are pretty big things!

But OP explains that she is from China. Suddenly the wave turns.

According to the OP, the important thing to note that in China, people are treated as family units, so even though the stepfather was the one who made the comment, the fact that nobody jumped up to disagree with him meant that it was reflective of the entire family unit. So it was only fair that the entire family was punished.

It still seems harsh to me, how people who might not have been at the dinner were also punished, but I have a better understanding of why it happened. Honour and reputation mean a lot more in East Asian countries, I think. It’s the concept known as “face“. Since I grew up here, and I think I had a fairly Westernised upbringing, I never really understood the importance of it, but I do think that my parents instilled in me the importance of being polite to others, as people will think better of you.

Sometimes I wonder if my mum goes a bit too far though. MrMan5.5’s mum invited us over for dinner (us being me, MrMan5.5, my mum and my dad). At the end of the dinner, my mum said to MrMan5.5’s mum that it was better than any restaurant I had ever taken her to. I know that she said it as a compliment to MrMan5.5’s mum, but it actually really hurt me, because the only present my mum seems to accept is us taking her out to eat. Except she complains nearly the entire time that she’s there that she could have cooked it at home for less money. Actually, I wonder if that’s where I get my frugality from. Anyway, I just meant to say that she seems to be perfectly willing to compliment others, even if it’s at the expense of me, like she doesn’t care what I think of her, or how I feel, as long as the person external to our family unit is made happy. (Even though MrMan5.5 and I are soon to be married, she still considers me part of her unit, and MrMan5.5 and his family are a different unit.)

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like my mother hates me, it’s just that she wants others to look highly upon us. I guess that’s why Asian parents push their children into trying to get high prestige jobs, like doctors, or lawyers, because it’ll reflect well on the entire family. Well, that and the fact that those careers tend to pay fairly well later in life, if you can survive the grind.

So I do understand the concept of the family unit, at least as well as a Chinese person who grew up in Australia could, but I really don’t see the fairness in punishing other people for the actions of one person. Some of the comments mentioned that cultures that put an emphasis on the value you contribute to a larger community leads to a better society, but I think it becomes crushing if you do not fit the norm of that society. Imagine how you would be treated if you really liked dogs, but you lived in a cat-loving society. You’d have to suppress your inner desires all the time. Though I guess even in Western societies, we ask people like pedophiles and rapists to suppress their inner desires for the sake of the rest of society.

When submitting our course preferences for uni, I did initially have medicine as my first choice, and I later found out that with my score, I might have even made it in. I imagine my parents would have been thrilled. But in the end, I knew that I was lying to myself, and that I’d make a terrible doctor, so when we were given the opportunity to change, I put engineering first instead. I really wanted to do something that would make my parents proud, but I couldn’t bring myself to sacrifice so much of my happiness in order to do so. Does that make me selfish? Does it make me a bad daughter? I’d say yes to the former, and no to the latter, as I imagine in the end, I’d have probably dropped out or been expelled from medicine anyway. I wonder if the real Chinese version of me would have just sucked it up and done medicine.

I do care about family though, like when mum asked me to lend her $5,000, it was never a question in my mind, and I wouldn’t have cared at all if she never returned it. I would still really love to be able to buy a house for my parents some day. And despite how much I believe in modern science, I will still keep the silly superstitions that my mum has, because I know that it makes her feel better knowing that I’m not cutting my fingernails after the sun has set. I just can’t bring myself to not be myself for the sake of my family.

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