A fea­ture­less coun­try of fac­to­ries spout­ing out lit­tle toy soldiers

I want to make clear that this is not a travel piece nor is it about Tai­wan and Aus­tralia’s his­tor­i­cal com­mon­al­i­ties. It’s about our col­lec­tive fu­ture on this planet. One of the great ques­tions of our time is: ‘How will we live to­gether into the fu­ture?’

Living Now - - Editorial - by Leon Van­der­pol

I want to make clear that this is not a travel piece nor is it about Tai­wan and Aus­tralia’s his­tor­i­cal com­mon­al­i­ties. It’s about our col­lec­tive fu­ture on this planet. One of the great ques­tions of our time is: ‘How will we live to­gether into the fu­ture?’

Iam Cana­dian by birth, but the beau­ti­ful isle of Tai­wan has been my home for the last 16 years. If you’re any­thing like my friends and fam­ily out­side Tai­wan, you will know very lit­tle about this na­tion. Even on the eve of my own de­par­ture to Tai­wan in 1999 I had only a vague con­cept built on mem­o­ries of child­hood where ev­ery plas­tic toy seemed to be ‘Made in Tai­wan’. My in­ter­nal im­age was that of a fea­ture­less coun­try of fac­to­ries spout­ing out lit­tle toy soldiers and the like. Of course it’s not like that at all! Tai­wan and Aus­tralia have an in­ter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal sim­i­lar­ity: both are is­land na­tions home to in­dige­nous peo­ples who in­hab­ited the land for thou­sands of years be­fore another peo­ple from another land ar­rived and for­ever changed its char­ac­ter and des­tiny.

For Tai­wan it was the Chi­nese. The story of what hap­pened to the na­tive peo­ple when the peo­ple from the other land took charge is es­sen­tially the same for both coun­tries, and the is­sues and chal­lenges fac­ing Tai­wan’s abo­rig­i­nal tribes re­flect those of the in­dige­nous peo­ples of Aus­tralia.

In Tai­wan and Aus­tralia and many other na­tions, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties are un­der stress. On the sur­face Tai­wan is a pros­per­ous na­tion, just like Aus­tralia.

How­ever if you look closely there are rifts that only seem to be get­ting wider and there is grow­ing con­cern for the fu­ture and our col­lec­tive well-be­ing.

One of the most vis­i­ble of the grow­ing rifts in Tai­wan so­ci­ety is their unique ex­pres­sion of the ‘Us ver­sus Them’ mind­set. Here it is ex­pressed as those who iden­tify as Tai­wanese (us) and those who iden­tify as Chi­nese (them). Ev­ery so­ci­ety has the ‘ Us vs. Them’ mind­set in a myr­iad of forms. How­ever it is time to make it clear that this men­tal model is cre­at­ing and deep­en­ing the count­less frac­ture lines which keep us di­vided.

In his book The Big Sort: Why the Clus­ter­ing of Like-minded Amer­ica Is Tear­ing Us Apart, au­thor Bill Bishop shows how Amer­i­cans are sort­ing them­selves into ho­mo­ge­neous com­mu­ni­ties. “Over the past three decades, we have been choos­ing the neigh­bor­hood (and church and news shows) com­pat­i­ble with our life­style and be­liefs. The re­sult is a coun­try that has be­come so po­lar­ized, so ide­o­log­i­cally in­bred that peo­ple don’t know and can’t un­der­stand those who live a few miles away.” He says that this grow­ing par­ti­san­ship is a re­flec­tion of the way Amer­i­cans are choos­ing to live: “an un­con­scious de­ci­sion to clus­ter in com­mu­ni­ties of like-mind­ed­ness.”

But who is not sim­i­lar to us? Well, they are. Them over there too. And if I think about it, them and them. It can be sub­tle in the way it arises. Bishop cites a din­ner party where, while dis­cussing neigh­bours soon to move into a nearby house, one of the at­ten­dees ex­claims, “As long as they are hip, cool, and lib­eral, I’ll be good.”

This big sort is hap­pen­ing not just in Amer­ica but all over the world, some­times peace­fully, of­ten with up­heaval and vi­o­lence. Peo­ple seek out places that best fit their ways of life, val­ues, and pol­i­tics, and yet, as Bishop points out, our de­ci­sion to as­so­ciate mostly with those who are like us is ac­tu­ally tear­ing us apart, mak­ing us less ac­cept­ing and un­der­stand­ing of each other.

Here’s my take on a way for­ward and to re­duce this trend to­wards clus­ter­ing and the in­tol­er­ance it can breed: the com­mon cul­ture of hu­man­ity must trump all other cul­tural val­ues if we are to live to­gether and har­mony is to pre­vail.

I’m not just speak­ing about trump­ing na­tional cul­tural val­ues here, but fam­ily, com­mu­nity and or­gan­i­sa­tional cul­tural val­ues as well. The com­mon val­ues of what it means to be hu­man can be em­pha­sised and el­e­vated over all other cul­tural val­ues if con­nec­tion and har­mony are to pre­vail and dis­in­te­gra­tion be averted. The world’s con­di­tion would shift on a dime if we all would start con­sis­tently and con­sciously choos­ing to per­ceive each other be­yond what de­fines us as dif­fer­ent.

What hap­pens when you are seen and ac­cepted for who you are at an es­sen­tial level? When you sense the depth of your own in­nate good­ness and worth?

Your heart opens up and you be­come far more ac­cept­ing of others. And when you re­flect to a per­son that you see their in­nate wor­thi­ness, they will see it more in them­selves. This is how the whole con­nects the part to the whole: the whole sees the whole in the part.

If we de­sire a level of peace and pros­per­ity that is sus­tain­able far into the fu­ture we can be­gin by look­ing at the root cause of our frac­tur­ing state: a fail­ure to stead­fastly per­ceive the in­nate value of our com­mon hu­man­ity be­cause we can get so fix­ated on our dif­fer­ences and dis­agree­ments.

I in­vite you to try his sim­ple ex­er­cise for a week: when you see a per­son (it can be any­one), lift your per­cep­tual gaze be­yond any per­sonal or cul­tural dif­fer­ences and fo­cus on sens­ing their in­nate value and good­ness. No­tice what hap­pens to the way you think or feel about that per­son, the way you speak or re­late to them. This does not mean you agree with every­thing they do; it sim­ply means that you are mak­ing a con­scious de­ci­sion to see be­yond the part to the whole. Do this each day for a week and you will have con­trib­uted might­ily to the bet­ter­ment of our world. ■

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