Sunday, January 16, 2011

Settling In During Unsettled Times

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."
 Dr. Martin Luther King Junior

The day before I left Nanjing, I went back down to my favorite park, as if I wanted to thank it for all of the simple lessons I learned when I would come down here to walk on the Palace Grounds ruins.  The old palace that once stood here with the ming lions standing guard.  Often I wondered why I just seemed to keep coming back to this place.  Nature had grown over these ruins that had been set aside to simply show that dynasties do collapse, what was once too big to fail had fallen all because there was a simple man who observed the actions of the elite, not caring about the welfare of the people.  A lion, that held the flower of life, the chi ball, displaying the power, which many are not aware that resides in each person.  China, holds still, the belief of the Mandate of Heaven.  If things need to change, then they will. I kept going and decided to go within the city.
As I walked around and looked at the crush of advertising and western images come in from all of the MNEs, telling them how badly they needed their products to have happy lives, I stared.  Microsoft showing their images displaying two different realities, is just one example of how fear is a factor in product marketing.  The false images that seems to just push forward a message that reads, "you are not good enough unless you have our products in your life."  I remembered my messages to my students, reminding them that they are fine just the way they are.  You don't need your teeth whitened, your skin doesn't need a pile of makeup, the clothes you make are your self expression, and your hair is beautiful as it is.  There is a fine line between taking care of yourself and turning into a photo-shopped image that is just like everyone else along the way.
It was early the next morning as I looked at the rising sun at the airport getting ready to leave.  Yes, it was both hard and easy to go.  It was hard, because I learned how I had been so afraid to come here.  I was swimming with my own preconceived notions about how I would 'fit in'.  I had so little knowledge about China.  I was completely ignorant about their lives, culture, and thought about how I watched each myth and preconceived notion shattered along the way.  Whenever I would hear news about human rights violations, I would laugh and think of all of our actions.  We sank to a level of targeting people, which because our 'enemies' would do it, that all of a sudden made it OK for us to do the same thing.  We used to be better than that.  We ignore what we do to each other, and find it easier to tear apart other countries, often not realizing that we are often the worst offenders on the planet.  We use the most resources, and yet have still to stand up to the corporations to demand change.  We stay divided, and yet the one thing I learned in China, that right or wrong...they stand together as a unified people.  Something the rest of the world has to learn how to do.  They don't let religion divide them.  They don't let their differences divide them.  They learn how to change from within.  They work together to solve problems and they have not let money be their god.  There was a lot I learned when I came here to teach English.  I thought of myself more as a student, than a teacher.  Where I was not able to go in the world, students from those parts of the world came to me.  We honored each other, respected one another and made great efforts to understand our mutual desires of wanting to create a world together of peace, collaboration, and to not give into the message of the "world is going to end in 2012."  The world is what we ALL make it.
I knew that I had a bigger pit of fear to overcome, and that was choosing to return to America.  Here with our SUVs, traffic jams and decaying urban environments.  Here the wealth is drying up, but our wealth has been misspent.  Our wealth was never supposed to be about money.  Our wealth was always around us.
As we drove through and I saw vacant buildings matched the vacant faces I would see.  The once grand New York City seemed to look like a has been, pretending to be something more real.  People afraid of each other.  What a contrast to where I had come from.  In Nanjing,  a city of 7 million people and it felt like I could go anywhere.  In New York, I will have to see if people are ready to see more.  Politicians only see the governments and interact on that level.  No, this is a far different view, this is a view from the weeds of life at the street level, where it really matters.  

As we headed towards the Lincoln tunnel, I thought about the inspiration a Chinese man had taken from the words of Abraham Lincoln, a man who had many personal failings in his life.  Yes,  to see Abraham Lincoln so revered for changing our nation, even though it did not want change.  I looked and saw not what one man did, but what need to do as the people of our own nation.  I had been angered by what I saw in our country.  No peace messengers, just war mongering to bail us out of economic depressions.  Stirring up strife in Korea, in Iran, in Isreal, in Afghanistan, Iraq and much of it at the behest of oil companies.  We the people, at the street level have had our heads down.  Good people that look at our large decaying cities wondering what we can do.  We don't seem to be able to put aside our differences long enough.  We erect more walls, gated neighborhoods, being bought off, and some people have gone off and decided to go ahead and profit off of the fear.
I looked up at the windows and wondered how many people even know their neighborhoods in the land of the 'free', home of 'the brave'.  I guess the easy way is just not to look at each other because that is the easy or safe way.  We don't make each other laugh anymore.  More often, we are making each other cry.  However, we all hear and know it just doesn't have to be this way.
I looked at the skyline.  This is America.  One port city that has been here, representing the American Dream around the world.  We sue each other now.  We have to be careful now of everything.  I looked at what they teach our children now, and I thought of all of the lessons I taught Korean children in English who were only 5 and 6 years of age.  They were writing, doing mathematics, science, and having fun.  I stared in horror as I looked at the homework of a child in one of the 'best schools' in New Jersey, the assignment was how to tell analogue time on a clock.  She was in the second grade.  I shook my head.  People, dear people, don't let this continue.  It may be legal, but it isn't right.  It's time to change the dream.  No one person changes our system.  We change our system.


YogaSavy said...

An America that is so different now. IBefore I left like i saw sadness and an uneasiness in peoples eyes.
Life has changed but am sure things will move to the better.
It is nice to see you back here. I missed reading your posts.

Marilyn said...

I am encouraged whenever I read the journeys of several people who have left and have gone outside of our 'American Dream". Since it is Dr. King's birthday, being celebrated, I have been reflecting on his words. The white community often has viewed this just as a 'their' holiday, not realizing that this was meant to not be about 'us' and 'them' but "WE". It was never about race but about equality. However, now we have a new struggle. We have to find our hearts again to rise above our self interests to a community to value all life. An America that has been traumatized and driven to further divides. The very love they had was used against them. Love overcomes hate, but people have forgotten how to love and when people start thinking they are superior to anyone, all they need to do is to look at a child. That child just loves until we teach how not to.

Marla said...

I can't say I agree with your view of the US completely however I completely respect that it is your view.

I see many of the same shameful things as you however I see so many good things as well. I still believe this is the country I love and am proud to be a part of. I suppose that my view is colored by my upbringing and life as well.

Thank you for always sharing from your heart and soul. You always make me think and that is a good thing.

Marilyn said...

Hi Marla, there is good and bad all around the world. To see the good can be hard. After being abroad, when a person returns to their own homeland, sometimes we experience the shock of seeing things we never saw before. Sometimes to be overwhelmed with our excess and greed that a person gets accustomed to when in the environment. Yes, there is a poverty of the mind that is reflected in our society. Our society looks poor compared to the world. We let our cities decay, yet, we build personal empires that only benefit ourselves. We create gated communities to keep our neighborhoods isolated. There is more to follow. We are all being abused and used by our systems so it really is up to us to be broad-minded and not so narrow-minded.

Healing Morning said...

About 15 years ago, I had the opportunity to teach in China. It never came to fruition for a variety of reasons, but I look back and think it would have been a valuable life experience.

I do have to say that I do not see America as a crumbling entity full of equally empty people. I'm very patriotic and I love my country. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it is definitely as full of people who are filled with Light to balance out those that you described. I am not criticising your opinions; I'm just saying that I don't entirely agree. I've been abroad and exposed to other cultures, but I still come home to a country I love & appreciate.

I tend to be an optimistic person and I feel that for every negative, balance occurs with a positive. I get called PollyAnna for that attitude and life approach quite often, but that's okay w/ me. It's who I am. :)

I enjoy your writing and will return!



Marilyn said...

That is our strength, not a weakness, to see the optimism in life. Even though it may sound negative, it is the cultural shock of actually seeing a city from the street level, which sharply contrasts the Hollywood version. To see the potholes, the vacant building, the unapproachable barriers I see people erect. To crack those barriers is going to take more than a smile. It is going to take care and understanding. People are often blamed for the actions of their governments. We write politicians, communicate through every means possible to simply show our voices are not in agreement. Often, the perception is they are going to do their will and not listen to the people. Life, sometimes is a little like 'on-the-job' training. We start with ourselves and try to enlarge our views. We like trying to figure it out for ourselves. Often one person will think they have all of the answers. As I have stated before. My view, it is not a universal one, it is a myopic one that points out what I am seeing. We all learn from each other. Often, sometimes we only can see what is around us, and it is often perceived that we don't look enough at the rest of the world. We do need to open our eyes beyond ourselves. Yes, we have a lot to be thankful for. There are others who are hurt, starving and homeless. They are within our country, around the world and they sometimes just hope for a meal, a bit of shelter and live sometimes hour to hour in places of extreme violence. For many of us, if we don't see it, it doesn't exist. If they are in famine ridden countries because we needed to fill up our cars to get to work to keep a system going that is killing billions, we should continue to be happy. Our greed, in its many forms hurts people. We can't understand because we are too worried about the bills, the education of our children, and all of the other assorted distractions that really keep us in a place of 'not seeing'. So we often say, there is nothing we can do but to continue to send aid. However, much of that aid never reaches the people, instead, much of the aid is pumped into wars, and the very people we are trying to help, are being killed.

Why should we care? If it is legal, it doesn't make it right. We have to raise our moral compass to have that clarity of a moment where we all collectively look and value all peoples, since our country is made of all peoples, creeds, races, religions, languages, and not use those differences to divide us, but to unify us to realize it isn't about just is about caring about the world because our nation is a collection of ever culture on this planet. That is where our diversity matters.

Yes, we our optimistic, but who are we optimistic for? Ourselves only, is possibly the most honest answer. It is a human tendency. To have an attitude that it will all work out without any action on all of our parts is naive. We all need to take action to not reinvent the same system, but to go beyond our greed. Our world really is having a huge problem right now.

Wars are not the answer. Dialogue is. One that helps all of us to awaken to how our profiteering mentality has hurt peoples in ways you could not imagine. Greed is not good. Our market sense of looking at the bottom line without looking at our human cost, not in impersonal numbers, but into the eyes and faces of the poor and hurting. To do more than just reach into our pockets, but to reach into our hearts.

People are the answer...we are the actors in this play and in all ways we need to see that not one country is more important than another. I will state again, we are all it in together and no person is the sole answer.

Mena UkodoisReady said...

I am happy to read about your growth. I hope a time will come when we all have opportunities to think outside our comfort zones and pretty little boxes.

Mena UkodoisReady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marilyn said...

We all have much growing to do.