A Matter of (changing) Perspective

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5-4-2014

There has been quite a few news articles regarding China on the internet lately. Of course I have a special interest in these articles. When I read the comments sections of the articles, I realize how far I have come in my understanding of this country and the stereotypes I once had of China. I have tried hard to break down those stereotypes and try to help others do the same. It is amazing some of the things I read on the comments section. I really do not want to sound insulting or “holier-than-thou” in my comments on here. I really can’t, because I was the same way of thinking as most people in the USA.

My perspective has definitely changed in the year that I have lived here. Not just in my view of China, the people, and the government. My perspective has changed on a whole host of issues. For example, I was indifferent to whether you could keep a gun or not. I personally have never been a fan of them. But, I wouldn’t want to take them away from someone who wanted one lawfully and legally. But, having lived in a country where the only people who have guns are the military, some police, and the people going to the banks to collect the money (They are heavily armored. Don’t you dare mess with China’s RMB…Ha Ha), my thinking has definitely changed. From my personal experience here in China, it makes sense not to have guns in a country. With no guns, there is no need to have one for protection. In China, there is nothing here to hunt. They killed the wildlife to prevent themselves from starving decades ago. And, unless you want to be a rebel and start a revolution against the government (which is probably why China has strict anti-gun ownership laws), there is no need for a gun. I can walk anywhere in this country and feel completely safe from being murdered or robbed by someone with a gun. Sure, a person with a knife or other weapon is another story. I am well aware of the gun advocates in America and the debating points on the subject. I am not here to debate the gun issue. I am just saying that there is some merit to having China’s anti-gun ownership laws. America might be better off with this type of policy, or something close to it.

But, my perspective on things are much more than just guns. My perspective on the world has changed. It is a much bigger world than anyone can understand. It is so complex and diverse in every aspect of life and environment. Yet, there are so many similarities that get overlooked. I tend to think deeper and broader on issues more than I once did. I can see things and perceive things through a different set of eyes and a new mindset. Much like a Christian with their faith, I want to share this awesome experience and life with those who want to learn about it. I want to invite everyone I know to travel the world and gain a new understanding on life. Maybe it will not be the same experiences I have had. I know many foreigners who have become very jaded in their outlook on China, their homeland, and on life in general. Again, like the gun argument, that is a debate I will reserve for another time. I want to remain focused on perspectives…my perspectives. How they have changed and maybe some reasons why.

I mentioned that the world is much alike and different at the same time. It is very true. Our culture and traditions might be different. But, many of them are rooted from similar beliefs. They stem from maintaining strong family ties and development of friends. They help maintain order in a society and give direction. They are based on moral codes and philosophy of life. For example, wedding tradition practices are varied all across the world. But, the root of the wedding is to release a child from their parent’s bonds and allow another to take on those responsibilities. It also, allows for development of an extended family to join your family (sometimes not successfully). It is a time of change in the family. A time to feel sadness that the little child you raised has moved into adulthood and onward in their lives. But, it is a joyous time too, knowing that you have prepared them the best you can to move forward. Most weddings are catering to these ideals.

I find great joy in just sitting and people watching here in China. One of my favorite times of the day is in the morning. Just sitting and watching people go about their daily lives. Adults headed to work to try to earn money for things they want and need. Children lugging their backpacks off to school. The elderly heading off to meet with their social group to play cards. Mothers with babies in tow to see a doctor or do some shopping for dinner. People riding bikes and in cars, trying to get from point A to point B. We all seem to put our pants on one leg at a time.

I think the biggest differences in people around the world is not through their culture and traditions. Although, the two areas I am about to discuss define many of the cultures and traditions we value. The biggest differences, and usually the biggest cause of problems for people in a society, are religion (beliefs) and governments.

Religions and beliefs tend to divide people. Yes, they bring like-minded individuals together. But, they always seem to divide those who do not think the way a faithful person of religion believes. Nearly every religion has a passage in their holy documents that says that you should go out and recruit people to your faith. Or, at the very least, those who are not of your faith are not nearly as good as you are, so you should do XYZ to them. That is not to say that religion is bad. I am not saying that at all. I am very strong in my faith. Religions are based to bringing society together and provide moral leadership and guidance to groups of people who think like one another. But, religions have a philosophical problem in which they never include others who are not part of their circle. Generally speaking, a Muslim and a Christian are always going to be at odds with one another when religion mixes into their lives. In China, there are many religions and beliefs that people practice. The government here turns their head from it, trying to maintain an atheist perspective as a country. As long as religion does not pose a threat to the government superiority, very little is suppressed.

Another thing that makes us different is government and politics. A government develops its people to think alike. It is sometimes called nationalism or patriotism. It gives us an identity as a group. It gives us purpose and a sense of belonging that human beings desire. Much like religion, one of the purposes is to bring people into a certain belief system that has been developed. When these political philosophies do not agree with other groups of people, whether it is with a group of people within the borders of the country, or outside of it, conflict arises.

By mentioning religion and government philosophies, I am not wanting to cause a debate. My perspective is that it is these two factors that are the major differences in people and how we define ourselves as a group of people. I have come to the conclusion that if religion and government were to disappear entirely from this world, or become united as one, we would all be more alike than different in each other’s eyes and mind. As a Christian, that is the great future we are looking for through Revelations. God will come to earth and set up his heavenly kingdom here. All those that are left on the planet are like-minded people with one belief in Jesus and God. We will all worship and follow one leader. There will be no division to cause conflict. But, I suspect, in that great new world of God, we will all still put our pants on one leg at a time. We will all do the things we do to live and survive. To try to gain the things we will want and need for our families, friends and for ourselves. I do not pretend to know what that great kingdom will be like. I know many try to define it for me.

One of the greatest problems we have that divide us and cause conflict among us, is stereotypes. As a society, and individually, we group people into little boxes. I have mentioned before in my postings, that many of my students see every American as fat, gun toting, wealthy, people who live in New York City or California. And, before I arrived in China, I had the same concept of Chinese people that many in America has. They are all drones, governed by a Communist government that will squash them if they step out of line. Of course, neither is true. Stereotypes are developed from past histories and experiences. And, in today’s global society, stereotypes are developed and maintained through technology and politics.

It is amazing how Chinese young people have come to define us. They have gained their perspective about Americans and most westerners through movies, music, Western company marketing campaigns and news. We have developed our stereotype of China, and maintain them today, through similar sources. Without going to all the factors of our stereotypes of what a Chinese person is, take a moment and think about what your perception is of China and the people here. Is it Jackie Chan? Is it the red demon of Communism? Is it about dominance in certain sporting events? Do you think they all eat rice and noodles for every meal? Well, that last one is nearly correct. Do you think that most of the people in China are poor and live in horrible living conditions? Do you think China is just one big polluted country? Are they dressed in the traditional Hans dynasty clothing or in the blue uniforms of the Mao era? Are they all repressed by a government? Their medical abilities are limited to herbs and traditional Chinese medicine techniques?

I mentioned all those possible factors of an American stereotype of Chinese people because that was my thinking when I got here. And, I will be first to tell you that I was dead wrong. The Chinese people are very diverse. Their history, and what my government/media has told me, defined what a Chinese person was. There is truth behind stereotypes. Stereotypes may be developed form the past and some of them remain true in the present. But, people change over time. Culture and traditions change over time. And, life changes too. But, stereotypes are much like that proverbial cruise liner in the ocean. It cannot stop on a dime. Nor can it change its course by turning sharply. It takes time for things to happen and change. When talking about stereotypes, it can take years, decades, and centuries to change. As diverse of a nation as America is, what is your stereotype of Whites, Blacks, Native American Indians, Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, Christians, non-Christians, gays, lawyers, used car salesmen, politicians, professional athletes, etc.? Now, ask yourself, how did your stereotype of these, and other groups, come to exist? Granted, we would admit that we know that ALL people of a group are not like the stereotype. But, we try to make exceptions to the rule of our stereotypes. We love to put people in boxes and organize our lives. Perhaps it is just human nature.

I mention all this because, it is not until you get away from your small little place in the world that you have developed to keep secure and safe, that you begin to see things differently and think about things more intensely. I am not better than anyone who has not had the experience I have had. But, I am personally a better person as a result of it. I still maintain my faith as the most important thing in my life. But, I hope that I am more open and tolerant of others who may have a difference in beliefs. I can agree to disagree, while still accepting their faith as their personal way of living. I am better personally now because I can see how propaganda and political influences through government and media sources can influence one’s thinking. By not relying on one source, I hope I can appreciate the things that are happening in the world. And, through this experience in China, my short time living in Mexico, and my travels while in the Navy, I hope I am breaking down the stereotypes I have developed in my life. Instead of saying all one group of people are XYZ. I hope I consider that in order to make up that group, it takes individuals. And, as individuals, we are all different while putting our pants on one leg at a time. It is all a matter of personal perspective. And, it is through this life experience that I have come to these conclusions.

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