America and North Korea seem in a stalemate. America talks tough and voices threats against North Korea, and North Korea responds with more missile tests. This ongoing pattern, which has dogged the world for years, seems never-ending.

It is a frightening situation which baffles most Westerners. Why on Earth would North Korea continue with such provocative behavior? Perhaps by looking at the true psychological meaning of North Korea's actions, we could move towards a peaceful solution.


For the last twenty years, the concept of "face" in Western countries has diminished.

The idea of "face" is having people respect you, and you having an untarnished reputation. Even in the United Kingdom, the concept seems to have gone out of the window.

You now gain more respect by doing only what you want to do, caring less about others, and public shaming is nothing to be ashamed of. Consider the antics of participants on television shows such as "Big Brother". They have sex on camera, exchange foul-mouthed insults, get drunk, and often trade blows.

If you consider how many television shows that glorify this behavior have popped up in the last twenty years, you'd need a pen and a very long piece of paper to write them all down. From "Jerry Springer" to "Jersey Shore", the concept of creating a scene and causing embarrassment has been a viewings winner for the television stations for years.

But not so in many Asian countries. For them saving face and gaining face are all important. Japan and Singapore seem to function on the concept that loss of face can be the loss of one's friends and one's career.

Singapore Sling

Take the case of a beauty queen in Singapore. She knelt next to someone at a party who was dressed as genitalia and posed with a cake which was shaped like a penis.

There was a public outcry over the incident. Even crimes considered minor in the United Kingdom can result in a loss of face in Singapore. Jaywalking and drunken behavior will result in your name appearing in the newspaper, and that will be the end of your career.

No Joke in Japan

Japan can be even less forgiving when it comes to losing face.

Turn up in clothing considered unsuitable for the office (a skirt that's too short) and you will immediately lose face. Your reputation now tarnished, you will find colleagues shun you and lunchtime will become a whole lot lonelier.

There is a darker aspect of losing face in Japan which is often suicide. There was the tragic case of three business partners hiring three hotel rooms and each of them committing suicide. The thought of losing their livelihoods and face was too much to bear.

A work colleague of mine, a Japanese lady, told me that her mother used to say that all wise men don't say much about themselves. This is based on the Japanese preoccupation with not revealing too much information which may be used by others to damage your reputation.

How to resolve the issue with North Korea

In conclusion, consider how North Korea takes the views of its opponents. Does it feel compelled to act aggressively to show its own population that it has not lost face? Does North Korea fear the public embarrassment of not responding to American threats more than it fears nuclear destruction?

It is quite possible that "face" could be the motivation behinds its increasing belligerence. Perhaps the only way to resolve North Korea is to ignore it and give it nothing to respond to. Alternatively, maybe Donald Trump could gain face in Asia by being the first president to meet the regime on their home turf?