If you don’t like something, change it.
If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
According to a Japanese Proverb, everyone has three faces – the first face that is shown to the world- diplomatic and perfect; the second face, shown to close friends and family – semi-real but not the truest and finally the third face, which is never or rarely shown to anyone – the truest reflection of who we actually are. The Public-face (Omote) and the Private-face (ura) are twin concepts that are applied to almost every aspect of life in Japan. It has special significance when applied to etiquette. Etiquette is the customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group and an area where the concepts of the Public-face and the Private-face can be applied to advantage.
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In the pre-Corona days, the father and very often the mother of the average Indian family left home at around 9 a.m. and from that moment till they returned home in the evening, they donned their Public-face (diplomatic and perfect) – smiling (whether they had anything to smile about or not), pleasant (though they felt like throttling some people they encountered) and appeared carefree as well as bindass (though they were frustrated and stressed with a variety of situations). The moment they returned home the smile dropped off their faces and they were ready to snarl at people they encountered along the way.
According to American statistics (2019), posts on Instagram were used as a measure of road rage and it was observed that the posts increased steadily during the morning hours and eventually peaked evening as agitated commuters fight traffic to make it home between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Now let us look at the other members of the family – the children, the grandparents and the disabled dependents. The children may be school/college-going and as they depart for school, they assume a public-face with a smile, pleasantness and carefree attitude like their parents, in spite of any storm that may rage inside them.
During the morning hours, the grandparents and other dependents, keep their public-face and appear cheerful (though they feel fretful with their aches and pains). They want to appear normal before the bread-winners leave for work so that they do not add to the bread-winners’ stress. These dependents resume their private-face and sometimes vent their frustrations on the paid-help, who assists them through the day. The paid-helps usually don their Public-face – amiable and obliging in spite of the problems, they face with the elderly, dependents or children since the pay packet is indispensable. The only people having the third face – truest reflection of themselves, are the children below the age of 3 yrs – they smile when they want to or throw a tantrum if they are hungry, angry or displeased with something. They have not yet learned to adopt the public-face unless they have had problems with their caretakers and learn it early in life.
The home is the physical quintessence of the people who reside in it, so it’s not surprising that it becomes the retreat and refuge for most of us. The home provides an oasis away from the chaos of the outside life by providing comfort, relaxation and security. In most cases, a home is a place where they do not have to put on a mask, to hide their true feelings.
The present Corona period, characterized by lockdowns, social distancing, working from home/increased unemployment, restricted recreation, increased electronic screen time and other social problems, poses unique challenges for all age groups from the youngest to the oldest in the family.
The children were happy initially since the schools were closed and it was their wildest dream come true with holidays all the time. The parents were not too worried and looked at it as a temporary respite while looking forward to sleeping late while avoiding the long commute as well as the hassles of working with fractious colleagues and facing cranky bosses. The grandparents were happy that the children would stay at home and get some rest from the never-ending rat race. They also optimistically hoped that their children would be more patient with their geriatric foibles, pay greater attention to their aches/ pains and hoped to have some family time with children and grandchildren.
The euphoria lasted for only a few days since managing the household sans paid help is an uphill task. According to the International Labour Organization Report (2018), in urban India, men spent only 8% of the total 341 minutes/day on unpaid care work at home, the rest being managed by the women. At first, women struggled on trying their best to attend to the needs of the family while attending to their career-related work. The husbands still had to contend with the stress of deadlines, fractious colleagues, the cranky boss and now his home (which was at one time his refuge/sanctuary), had been invaded.
The children missed the commute to school; the contact with other children, the physical activities that helped to release the energy and freedom of being away from the protective disciplining of their parents. Now much to their dismay, the school had invaded their home and eaten into their TV time. The grandparents realized that their children were overburdened with household work and had no time to spare. Further, they could not even enjoy their little outings visiting doctors.
Now the third face of women began to manifest more and more frequently as she tried to empty the sea with a sieve. Most of the family members had a sense of entitlement and felt unhappy that they were not getting the attention/services they were used to from the mother/homemaker. Gradually husbands, as well as other family members, began to realize that the mother alone could not manage the whole household while attending to her career-related work from home. They began to participate in household activities, although reluctantly in most cases. In a patriarchal setup, this led to a lot of tension as the fathers felt they were doing a favour to the women by assisting them in household work and children felt they were being driven like slaves.
Gradually all members began to show less and less of their first and second faces and were often found exhibiting their third face, the truest reflection of dissatisfaction and grumpiness. Their faces tended to assume the third type as they became more dissatisfied with the way things were.
According to WHO Situation Report – 44, although the Coronavirus may not hit global health as disastrously as did the bubonic plague of the 14th century, the world as we knew it earlier will certainly be changed. The Corona pandemic has made us feel anxious and we are driven to distraction by family members, who are constantly getting in each other’s way. According to a BBC report, the pandemic is causing the development of serious mental health conditions among children, including post-traumatic stress. Anxiety about their loved ones’ health as also the social isolation, loss of routine and regular education, tends to be experienced “like bereavement”; there will be no going back to normal when there are no more cases.
We are going to be in this situation for a long time and the family needs to sit together and discuss the situation, spelling out their fears, reassuring each other, airing out their grievances and working out a solution together. During the discussion, all need to be fair, open-minded and realize that the World as they knew it is changed. All should make every effort to use their Public-face of diplomacy and perfection or the Private-face which may be semi-real but still acceptable, be willing to accept weaknesses and evolve a joint strategy. Unless the families develop proper coping mechanisms, the Corona pandemic may lead to a disruption in family life. The coping mechanism will involve organizing your home and time, with a good dose of positive attitude. Corona Virus may affect the health of nations but it should never be allowed to wreck the fabric of family life.
“Love your family. Spend time, be kind & serve one another. Make no room for regrets. Tomorrow is not promised & today is short.” ~ Anon