I've called this Chapter 'Time Out', because I want to take time here to tie up some loose threads in what I have written so far. Those entrusted with reading my first drafts (the moment they are finished) are wondering what my 'political correctness issues' have to do with anything. In order for you to understand that, I have to begin making the connection between political correctness and the reasons why I love my life in China, in contradistinction to how I felt about my life prior to coming to China.
The other reason why I have given this chapter the title it has, is because not only does everyone need to take time out to evaluate or re-evaluate their lives, but as we will see, everyone needs to take time out to look at the details of life's journey, rather than constantly focusing on the end result.
At the end of the last chapter I provided 3 jokes (although the one about the weather is alleged to be true). In this Chapter, I want to make comment about those jokes.
The first joke (about the weather), demonstrates that sometimes there is a discordance between how people perceive us and/or interpret our words and actions, and how we meant our words and actions to be received. In The Pompous and Arrogant R.P. BenDedek in response to one person's accusations that I 'sounded like' one type of person or another, I wrote: 'What you hear when you read, is yourself'.
- 'you sound' ... I don't 'sound' when I write. What you 'hear' when you read, is yourself imposing a layer of emotion over the words. 'I like you!' has no meaning when written because you can't 'hear' the tone containing the meaning. Those three words can mean at least 4 different things. How you read it will depend on the layer you put on it.
Sometimes people like to 'correct' my facts. Unfortunately, they sometimes fail to actually 'see' what I wrote, and 'react' to a perception of what I wrote. I remember one lady whose letter spoke (sounded) to me as though she was indignant at my ignorance of a particular 'fact'. Not only did I not say what she 'saw', but in her correction, she was factually incorrect.
It's very easy for us to accuse others of saying, thinking or meaning something that they never intended to be taken 'that way', because we filter what we hear and read through our own world view. We can I think, throughout our lives, waste a lot of valuable time by being unnecessarily offended with people. That we remain offended for a long time is indicative of the fact that we never confront a person or our issue so as to clarify the matter. Unfortunately however, because the word 'confront' is synonymous with 'accuse angrily', when we do 'confront' people, we often find ourselves getting more angry.
The truth is that many people are unaware that they have offended you, or that you have received their remarks about something in a way that was not intended. One of the beefs I have with the 'thought police', is that there is no defense possible for those who offend political correctness. What was meant is irrelevant, even if it never occurred to the speaker, that the words could be misconstrued.
In the second joke (the monastery), there are two lessons to be learned. The first is that you don't have to change too much, to find that the inner 'joy of life' is replaced with 'inner struggle'. The second lesson from that joke, is that no matter how faithful to the cause you think you might be, and no matter how dedicated you are to 'promoting that cause', sometimes it transpires that you are misguided and have missed the most important aspect of it.
Political Correctness philosophy is a wonderful thing that should be taught and promoted so as to better society. We call it propaganda in the West, but here in China, everything you see in the media is designed to promote a safe, peaceful, and harmonious society of people dedicated to preserving and promoting the values of Chinese culture and socialist agenda.
Although one foreign teacher I met had been in China for quite some time, she had failed to note a very important thing about the many 'concerts' that you see on Chinese television, and that is, how the audience are segregated into colours. One group over there wears red shirts, and the other over the other side is wearing blue shirts and the ones in the middle are wearing yellow shirts. She also did not realise that all those signs and placards being held up by the audience, are professionally printed. Audience participation is highly orchestrated, and everything is designed to make viewers 'feel good'.
We all know that China 'controls the press', but did you know that the most important regulation concerns the percentage ratio of good to bad news? Only 20% of any media reporting is allowed to contain 'negative' images. Everything in Chinese society is geared toward harmony, and once you have lived here awhile, and gotten over this "unbalanced" perception of the world, you begin to really appreciate it. The easiest way to realise just how much you appreciate it, is to return to your home country and watch the news. It is sickening.
Political Correctness properly applied is supposed to foster harmony in society, instead it has turned into a weapon to be used against anyone we do not like or appreciate, and those we downright hate. Political correctness when used by 'thought police' is a weapon that they wield to raise their own status and power. At no time in the last hundred years was this better demonstrated than in China during the cultural revolution.
The third joke (Chinese boy speaking Yiddish) firstly teaches us that whilst we may think we can trust people to lead us where we want to go, often times we cannot; and it's hard to know who to trust. The second thing it teaches us is that although we may have mastered some type of learning in our lives, what we have mastered may not only have limited appeal, but we may not have realised that what we mastered, was not what we intended to.
It never ceases to amaze me that so many of those who spend their lives 'learning to be like Jesus', fail to realise that they more resemble Pharisees than Jesus himself. Instead of kicking over the money changer's table, they heap more money on it. Instead of weeping for the 'rich man' who turned and walked away from Jesus, they scream after him condemning him to the fires of hell. Instead of shining their light to light the way for the lost, they shine the damn torch right in their bloody eyes and blind them, causing the poor hapless sod to close his eyes and walk right off the edge of the road. And you guessed it, the same goes for all those activists who rip into everyone and everything with which they disagree.
The common element within these explanations of those jokes, is that people often get so caught up in themselves and their cause, that they don't take the time to see life from any perspective other than their cause. So many people are pushing their causes, mastering their craft, and letting no one get in their way, that they forget to be human. They forget that they too cause offense. They don't realise that they have left the joy of living behind. They are ignorant of the fact that what they are doing only enables them to communicate with a small percentage of the population. In short, they never take time out to examine or to enjoy the details of their journey.
Last week on CCTV 9 here in China, I was watching 'Dialogue' with Yang Rui, and listened to him interviewing Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar of Harvard University about his book: Six Tips for Happiness Advice. It only took a few minutes for me to run and grab a pad and pen and write down some of the things Dr. Ben-Shahar said.
One of the things he said was that no matter what your philosophy in life (religious or secular), every human being has a need to have a purpose. He pointed out that many people who strive and struggle to 'arrive' at their destination, often do so, only to find that they are not happy. They failed to understand that happiness lies within a person, and comes from their daily living experiences. Happiness is not something that we import. Of course I always say that if you must be unhappy, then at least be rich, it is easier to cope with.
Dr. Ben-Shahar made a statement to the effect, that people need to understand that it is from the journey itself that we derive pleasure, not the destination, and that in order to find balance in life, people must stop and take time out to look at the day's events, and see the joy that was in it. Far too often we only reflect on flaws and failures, rather than on joys and successes. True happiness is found in the many small moments in our lives, and we have to remind ourselves daily of all the things we are grateful for and appreciate. Here are some of the things I have learned to appreciate during my time in China:
I love the countryside in Hong Hu.
I love the country 'feel' to my life in SuZhou.
I love the area in which I live.
I love being made welcome in the local neighbourhood
I love the scenery in China
I love all the fabulous sights in China.
I love being able to fill a need in Chinese Society
I love my students
I love my job
I love the money they pay me
I love not having to bite my tongue all the time
I love not being a sexist, just because I am a male
I love not being a racist, just because I am white
I love not feeling anxious around my children
I love feeling that my life has purpose
I love the way the Chinese take pride in their culture
I love the ordinary Chinese man's dedication to building a better society
I love the fact that most of the time I am smiling
I love being able to write about my travels
I love having people ask me for advice
I love being greeted by people's smiles
I love the little one's who get excited at talking to the foreigner
I love it when ditch diggers grin from ear to ear when I greet them in Chinese
I love being noticed for who I am
I love being seen, and seeing those who see me.
I love walking carefree in the street on which I live
I love having a peaceful life without the 'thought police' constantly carrying on.
I love watching the news on TV without the 'bloody images'.
I love listening to Discussions and debates on TV without all the name calling and accusations.
I love being able to go anywhere at anytime and feeling safe.
I love being able to jump on my bike night or day and riding without headlights, helmet or other forms of protection.
I love not hearing people whinge and complain
I love not having to listen to everyone blaming everyone else for everything
I love not having to bear everyone blaming me for their unhappiness
I love being loved by Chinese friends even when I have upset them
I love my Chinese friends
I love being accepted into the lives of their own Chinese families
I love being loved for just being me!
I love being me!
When Yang Rui pointed out that there is a high rate of suicide amongst poets and philosophers, Dr. Ben-Shahar pointed out that such people tend to wrap themselves up in the 'examination of life', rather than in life itself, and so pay a high price.
I stated in the beginning of the book that before I came to China, I felt that I had lost both my past and my future. In fact, it felt like I had gone to sleep one night when I was 18 years old and woken up 30 years later, to discover that I was 'out of sync' with the rest of the world. My life fell into complete depression because I lacked any joy or happiness. Moreover, in examining what life had to offer, I found little in which I was interested.
During his interview, the good Doctor made reference to Confucious who said something like: To order the State aright, you first have to Order the City right. To put the city in order, you have to put the family in order. But before you can put your family in order, there is more important task: To put yourself in order.
These last 4 years for me (2003-2007), and quite without realising it, have been a time of putting my own life in order.
In April of 2007 I had a series of email arguments with my children that commenced with one child's anger over the fact that I would once again, not be returning to Australia. Since January of 2005 in fact, the only time I have been back to Australia was a quick one week trip I made in 2006 to attend my youngest daughter's wedding. The day afterward, I flew back to China. (Admittedly I was on a tight schedule and had to take time off from my job).
By the time I next return to Australia, (July 2008) it will have been three and a half years since I took time off to be with my family. Since arriving here in February of 2003, I have only returned 3 times. The first time was during the SARS epidemic. The second and third times were during my Winter Holidays (January) in 2004 and 2005.
It's not hard at all to understand why my kids might be angry with me. They are stuck in their ordinary lives, and I am travelling the world living an exotic lifestyle in the Far East.
Hardcover Publishing inquiries welcomed!
R.P. BenDedek is the pseudonym of an Australian who has been teaching in China since 2003. He currently lives in Baotou in Inner Mongolia. In addition to contributing to Magic City Morning Star News as a columnist, he also is an assisting Editor for the Newspaper.
Additionally, BenDedek is the author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' at www.kingscalendar.com