Recently a dear friend introduced me to the Japanese concepts of honne and tatemae. I had never heard these words before. Without her, I would probably just have assumed they were the names for a Japanese pop culture couple or something. (They do say that opposites attract.)
After reading several articles on the subject and watching this interesting little video, I think I have a grasp of it now. Honne is basically your true feelings and/or thoughts in any situation. (I will have no trouble remembering that word, because it kind of looks like “honest”.) I’m quite good at honne most of the time. If you ask my opinion on something, I’m always happy to give it to you, often to the point where it gets me into trouble. (Because, sorry, those shorts actually do make you look fat.)
Tatemae is what I struggle with. It’s kind of the public face you show the world in order to avoid conflict, spare feelings, and/or further your goal. It can be as innocuous as saying, “I’ll call you!” after a particularly bad date, or as insidious as, “Corruption? No corruption in this organization!”
Tatemae definitely has its uses. Unfortunately, it will often get you further in the work environment. “Yes, boss, you are doing a pathetic great job!” (This is probably why I’m a bridgetender instead of a CEO. I just can’t do it.)
And if you are trapped on an island with 127 million other people, avoiding conflict is all the more crucial. Not that tatemae is exclusive to Japan. In fact, I seem to be over my head in a sea of it here in Seattle, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever adjust to it.
But perhaps I’m better at it than I think. As I blogged the other day, friends tell me that the things I write here are not like the person that they know. That has a lot to do with editing, and my desire not to be perceived as a nut job. So, hey, there’s hope for me yet, if one considers tatemae to be a hopeful thing.