Kindness vs. privacy

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Kindness vs. privacy

Postby Ruud » Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:29 am

Hello everyone,
I'm a European who recently (half a year ago) moved to China. I've always been very interested in Buddhism, have read a lot of it and consider myself mentally a (Theravada) Buddhist (stupidly enough I have trouble really giving it that label, due to my scientific background that tells me not to accept until "proven", but that's another matter ).
Anyway, trying to live a proper/beneficial life I have struck upon something I would like to hear your advice on. The mother-in-law of the brother of my wife (I met her once before) is coming to visit the city where my wife and I live. My wife, acting according to her Chinese upbringing and in a way not being able to do otherwise, invited her over to stay with us, eventhough we don't really have the space to do so. I myself also want to be kind to her, but constantly these feelings of invasion of privacy invade my mind, and take a stronger place than the kindness that I want to express. I know this specific sense of privacy is a Western idea, as my wife also doesn't enjoy the idea extremely, but just copes with it in line with her education.
So, what is your opinion? How should I cope with these feelings? Any advise?
Thanks in advance,
Ruud
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby cooran » Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:46 am

Hello Ruud,

May I ask how long the lady will be staying with you? Days, weeks or months?

with metta
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby Annapurna » Wed Apr 28, 2010 9:00 am

Good question, Cooran!

Raud...I understand you feel encroached upon if there is not a lot of space and you're not used to it. She may be a total stranger. But she may also be one of the loveliest persons you have ever met in your whole life, helping in the house, who knows!

In each challenge, there is also a hidden gift. Try to discover the gift in the situation.

What will it teach you? Where will you be able to grow and become a better person?

Perhaps it will also help you to think of the Buddha:

Did he live alone...?


And always know: "This too shall pass"..... :anjali:

Best wishes,

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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby PeterB » Wed Apr 28, 2010 9:13 am

Frankly Ruud I think its ridiculous that you should by convention be expected to offer hotel space in your apartment to the "mother-in-law of the brother of your wife ".
When you married a Chinese woman you did not marry her entire culture.
I think you need to have a heart-to-heart and state your mutual expectations and limits .
I can only say that in your situation I would not agree to hosting this lady for more than say, one night.
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby Ruud » Wed Apr 28, 2010 9:20 am

She will be here for several weeks. I had a chance of meeting her one time before, and she of course seemed like a kind woman, that's not the problem.
She will also be bringing her partner (I never had the chance of meeting him, my wife did).
To give an idea about available space, one of us (my wife and I or the two of them) will have to sleep on a sofa-bed in the living room since we have only one bedroom.
It is definitely not that I am unwilling to share the house with them or that I'm afraid of them being unkind or unconsiderate, it just gives me this feeling of attachment to my privacy in addition.
Annapurna, thank you for your advise, I'll definitely try to look at it from that angle.
PeterB, I understand your point, but I always try to keep the following rule: "When living with the Romans, act like the Romans". This within my own devised borders ofcourse. And this is exactly an issue that seems to lie close to the border mentally. And I didn't directly marry her culture, but married her, and her culture (education/perception of the world/thoughts) is an inseperable part of her. So indirectly I did marry it.
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby Annapurna » Wed Apr 28, 2010 9:47 am

Ruud, several weeks under those conditions would seriously challenge me. I don't think I would expect anybody to do this for me.

Isn't there anybody else who is willing and able to host them at least for a part of the time, and why do they stay for so long to begin with? Are they homeless?

I admire the respect you have for another culture and it's customs.

On the other hand, I think those people might also be aware and sensitive to the fact that you come from another culture and so may not take offense so easily, if you act in other ways than what they are used to.

You could ask them to keep this in mind, in your 'welcome' words.

If they're traditional, they also know you are head of the family and that your wife should adapt to you...don't they?

Perhaps not. I don't know how modern or educated they are, and China is a land with censorship.

On another note, I was just thinking of an important aspect in Chinese life: Saving face.
How could you or they save face if you guys see another couple asleep in bed when you need to visit the WC?

I think you need to clarify those things with your wife very openly, prior to their arrival, and both seek assistance from other relatives your wife may have.

We have a saying that visitors and fish stink after 3 days...be cautious if you're not trying to handle more than you're able to.

I think your gut feeling is a sure indicator you're coming to your limits.

It's much better to solve those issues before they arrive than fall into predictable traps.

With metta,

Anna
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby PeterB » Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:00 am

I think it cuts both ways Ruud. When your wife married you she accepted certain aspects of your culture also.
Which includes a recognition of the fact that you have had a particular conditioning and have particular expectations vis-a- vis privacy and personal space etc. Good intentions will not make that vanish.
It may not be clear to your wife the degree which such an arrangement would place strain on a person brought up with certain western expectations. I think if you were to make that strain clear to her she might then understand.
You have entered into a marriage where there will need to be adjustments made in both directions. That is ok in itself.

I can only repeat that I would find the prospect of sharing an apartment for several weeks with semi strangers in a confined space pretty unacceptable. We are as we are. To quote a friend from another Buddhist website " lets not try to be too holy by next tuesday "... :smile:
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby Ben » Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:20 am

Hi Ruud

I have to agree with Peter.
Be careful that your wife's good intentions and being so accomodating doesn't become a vehicle for others to take advantage of both of you.
Your first responsibility is to you and your wife.
I also second Peter's recommendation that you have a talk to your wife about expectations.
kind regards

Ben
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby Annapurna » Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:21 am

" lets not try to be too holy by next tuesday ". :rofl:
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby PeterB » Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:49 am

I should attribute that Anna, its genkaku...if I remember correctly, quoting his mother. :anjali:
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby Ruud » Thu Apr 29, 2010 10:16 am

Thanks everybody for your replies.
They are not homeless. They live with my wife's brother. This is in China a relatively normal custom, children take care of the parents, parents look after the grandchildren. No need for a retirement home, no need for childcare, but unfortunantly also no use for privacy :? But that is in that sense not under discussion now, it's just to sketch the common habit.
Regarding other people taking them, no, nobody around. We live 23 hours by train from their home and are the only ones in this surrounding.
My wife understands my opinions and is also not thrilled to have them over (although she is (luckily) not raised traditionally so that she has to listen to what I say). We have a rather good idea of eachothers expectations and values. She has a relatively western way of thinking, due to our time together and her staying in the west. It is just that when being on the phone, in order to make it easier for them, acting out of her education, the invitation was already out before she could reconsider. We also stayed with her brother and her parents, no problem to them (although it was only a few days and really to visit them as family, which is different from this case, being further away family and for a longer time). And rejecting them would be an unacceptable loss of face.
I think I'll have to accept the situation as it comes and try to live by the maxim Anna mentioned: "This too will pass...". And make sure I have tape ready to silence my wife next time her education pops up :tongue:
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby Pannapetar » Tue May 04, 2010 10:42 am

PeterB wrote:When you married a Chinese woman you did not marry her entire culture.


You forgot he's in China. And when you are in China, you do marry the culture. All of it. :sage:

Annapurna wrote:And always know: "This too shall pass"...


Indeed so.

In the meantime, I'd consider it an opportunity to get to know Chinese culture better. With only half a year in China, you're still a greenhorn. :tongue:

I've lived in Thailand for 17 years, and there are many similarities. It is quite normal to go through some adaptation pains in the beginning.

Your wife may have had similar experiences in your country.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby salmon » Tue May 04, 2010 11:16 am

Hi Ruud,

In chinese custom, for a younger generation to "boot" a elder out, it would result in that younger member being judged, cursed and gossiped about (all of which chinese people loooove to do). Not only would she have to bear with that, so would her parents, their parents and all the forefathers. Get the gist? You may find that putting up with the temporary loss of privacy will be more worth than the aftermath!!

It's tough...hell yeah!! I've been in positions like that before where I have to accommodate uncles and aunts in my house, some of whom I have almost never met. Not only that, because my family is apparently more affluent, we are sometimes expected to pay for their holidays.

I wish you luck and wished you never had to be put in this situation. May you be able to gain patience and merit from your generosity.

And yes...when you marry a chinese (or an asian), you DO marry the whole clan.

EDIT: If you are feeling rich, you could suggest paying for a hotel for them "so as to make their stay more comfortable" but several weeks will burn a hole in any pocket.
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby PeterB » Tue May 04, 2010 11:29 am

"You marry the whole clan "....hmmmmm. Anyone happen to know the figures for the proportion of marriages between Europeans and Asians who then live in Asia...rather than when the Asian partner lives in Europe/America, which end in divorce ?
I am interested in the actual figures if available rather than a subjective sense of the proportions.
I suspect if might be higher than the current western divorce rate. In the UK a staggering one in three marriages end in divorce.
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby PeterB » Tue May 04, 2010 11:31 am

salmon wrote:Hi Ruud,

In chinese custom, for a younger generation to "boot" a elder out, it would result in that younger member being judged, cursed and gossiped about (all of which chinese people loooove to do). Not only would she have to bear with that, so would her parents, their parents and all the forefathers. Get the gist? You may find that putting up with the temporary loss of privacy will be more worth than the aftermath!!

It's tough...hell yeah!! I've been in positions like that before where I have to accommodate uncles and aunts in my house, some of whom I have almost never met. Not only that, because my family is apparently more affluent, we are sometimes expected to pay for their holidays.

I wish you luck and wished you never had to be put in this situation. May you be able to gain patience and merit from your generosity.

And yes...when you marry a chinese (or an asian), you DO marry the whole clan.

EDIT: If you are feeling rich, you could suggest paying for a hotel for them "so as to make their stay more comfortable" but several weeks will burn a hole in any pocket.



What about just not doing it ? What merit is gained by an unquestioning compliance to dumb custom...whether of the East or West.
Until a short while ago there was a dumb custom in the land of my birth that no matter how unhappy a couple made each other they stayed together. I am delighted to say that this is no longer the case. It was dumb. It changed.
There is nothing inherently Buddhist about conforming to social norms per se.
Indeed if the Buddha had been a conformist he would have stayed in the palace and become the King of a small Kingdom.
Prior to the 1960's even in the UK it was customary to exclude family members for a whole range of reasons. Because they stopped sharing the family religious belief for example. Or married someone disapproved of by family members. Or because they dressed differently, or were gay, or " too educated"....Well a whole generation stood up and said "OK exclude us.."
After a decade or two many people renegotiated their family relationships. Many were accepted for being themselves..including adopting " weird foreign religions "...... like Buddhism.
And once Pandora opens her box, it will not close again.
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby SDC » Tue May 04, 2010 2:39 pm

PeterB wrote:What merit is gained by an unquestioning compliance to dumb custom...whether of the East or West.


In my opinion, there is a lot of merit to be found here, but with a catch. In your case, Peter, since you do not like the custom or the prospect of someone staying that long, you would be making a huge sacrifice for another. You would be sacrificing your comfort, your time and most importantly your view on the whole matter by allowing the situation to proceed. That's worth a lot of merit. Well at least according to my understanding of dana, which in addition to food and help to sangha also includes sacrifices and good deeds to all beings. This would be one great sacrifice. However, if you were to spend the duration harboring angry thoughts and an agressive attitude at your wife and houseguests, that kamma may cancel out whatever merit you are gaining. So that would be something to keep in mind, and for me personally would be the most significant and difficult aspect of the whole situation.

So I guess what I'm saying, Ruud, is that beforehand you need to believe in your reasoning for going through with it so you don't have to battle with that personal anger and confusion on a daily basis. In addition you should prepare yourself for the possible negative states of mind that may occur on a daily basis. Because it sounds like it will be quite a tough situation.

And for the record I would have a really hard time going through with this living situation, despite my opinion on the situation.
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby PeterB » Tue May 04, 2010 2:50 pm

I am sorry SDC but I think thats nonsense. We are called to cultivate that kindness,those positive virtues that are real. Not to merely comply to social mores .
And the mere fact that any particular example of social mores are personally uncomfortable for us does not in itself imbue it with virtue.
We are not called on in walking the Buddhas way to don hair shirts or flagellate ourselves by adopting the more unreasonable ( to western sensibilties ) customs of those we happen to sojourn among.

We have not emerged from our own version of collective non individuation in order to regress to the collective under an exotic guise.
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby SDC » Tue May 04, 2010 3:05 pm

PeterB wrote:I am sorry SDC but I think thats nonsense. We are called to cultivate that kindness,those positive virtues that are real. Not to merely comply to social mores .
And the mere fact that any particular example of social mores are personally uncomfortable for us does not in itself imbue it with virtue.
We are not called on in walking the Buddhas way to don hair shirts or flagellate ourselves by adopting the more unreasonable ( to western sensibilties ) customs of those we happen to sojourn among.

We have not emerged from our own version of collective non individuation in order to regress to the collective under an exotic guise.


I understand what you are saying, but I don't think you understood what I was saying. It had nothing to do with complying blindly to social mores. It had to do with seeing that act as a sacrifice for others. I specifically said that the reason for doing such an act should be thoroughly considered and not just accepted with no preperation. And if a person considers it, accepts it for what it is, despite their doubts and fears, and goes through with it that would be true virtue. If they can't then it becomes an issue, which I also spoke about. I stated specifically that if the discomfort were to make you angry and agressive it would do no good for anyone involved.

Basically if you can look at it a certain way and be able to handle it then have it. If you can't, then don't.

But just to clarify, are you saying that sacrifices and good deads for others are nonsense?
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby PeterB » Tue May 04, 2010 3:28 pm

I am saying that I catch a whiff of burning martyr.
I am futher saying that sacrifices that merely serve to reinforce social custom and that are not part of of a mature and reciprocal relationship, ( which by definition must preclude moral blackmail and threats of social isolation ) may unwittingly be unskillful.
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Re: Kindness vs. privacy

Postby Pannapetar » Tue May 04, 2010 3:52 pm

The need for privacy is often based in selfish, egotistic motives which remain subconscious if never challenged. If nothing else, a situation that challenges habitual behaviour patterns such as this, can bring hidden motives to the surface. It is a possibility, the silver lining of the grey cloud so to speak, wherein lies some potential. Furthermore, SDC is quite correct in saying that there is merit in giving up something cherished for the benefit of another person.

In my view, accommodating family members is never a "dumb custom".

Cheers, Thomas
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