This piece was originally shared with students in Jamie's Chinese 5 class on March 20, 2021.
As a first-generation Asian immigrant, I have experienced very complicated emotions about the recent news. Every day for the past year, whether I was walking, shopping, or taking out the garbage, anti-Asian news stories have been in my head, reminding me to be careful. Where I live, I am still a minority. My Chinese-accented English and Asian face announce, "I am not the majority."
I am a mother, teacher, Taiwanese, American, friend, aunt, sister, daughter—but I have never felt my identity as an Asian immigrant so consciously.
During my two decades of living in the United States—from Boston to Manhattan, Los Angeles to the Bay Area—I have experienced countless incidents of racial discrimination in my daily life. When they unfortunately happened, I applied the Taiwanese method: To achieve peace and harmony, you need to dissolve major conflicts into small conflicts, dissolve small conflicts to dust; zero-conflict is the best. Just like teachers often taught us: "Harmony is the most precious element."
Alas, instead of peace and harmony, small and large conflicts persisted. Those conflicts were not dealt with but were buried and denied. Worse, conflicts of injustice often caused me heartache in the dead of night. There is no peace, let alone harmony.
So, how can we properly resolve such conflicts and abolish injustices to achieve peace of mind? These are questions I struggle with daily.
So far, I do not have an applicable formula since dealing with human affairs is not like solving math problems.
Oscar Wilde once said, "Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first and the lesson afterward." Indeed, my experience of making mistakes while searching for solutions has been precious.
After many years of living and traveling in the East and the West, I have accumulated some valuable realizations and I have learned to protect my heart, my original clear heart. Whenever I encounter big or small conflicts, I now face them immediately instead of ignoring them, even when I have no solution. Then, I ask what to do next, which sometimes involves finding space and time to carefully reflect first.
The famous ancient Chinese philosopher, Mencius, was one of many to believe that human nature is inherently good. How can we return to our inherent goodness to make decisions that will help foster more goodness and goodwill in the future?
Recent hate crimes motivated by racism, from the murder of George Floyd to the mass shooting in Atlanta, continue to cause such heartache and rage. When I feel powerless, I remind myself how essential it is to face these major conflicts against our innate human goodness. So, I have been in constant dialogue to confront anti-Asian violence.
What steps can you take to make a small change to contribute to universal goodness? Is Chinese Confucianism’s World Harmony（世界大同 ）an inachieveable utopia or can we collectively make progress toward peace?"
—Jamie Chiahui Gao
All changes start from one person, just as all great buildings start from a grain of sand. Consider Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist. After discovering the problem of climate change, she made simple posters, rode her bike to local government officials, and sat every day, sharing her concerns about the earth with curious passersby. Her message ended up all over the world. She persisted in awakening peoples’ innate goodness and persuading them to change their lifestyles and improve the world.
Do not underestimate your own influence and the power of what you say; as long as one person listens, you will make change.
In recent years, unfortunate events have happened one after another. Each time, I return to relying on the strength of my good heart to face the pain.
As long as conflicts are unfair and contrary to our shared humanity, no matter how small my audience is or how clumsy my methods are, I should bravely stand up to protect vulnerable groups and speak for those who cannot. There are many ways to express opinions and demand justice, and there is no method too small.
This is how I learned to take care of myself and not let fear stop me from choosing to do the right thing, because I can only truly nourish and strengthen the goodness in my own heart in this way.
I often think about the hatred between races in human history, and my own disconnection with people of other backgrounds. How can we bridge disconnections that cause misconceptions and break these misconceptions? How can we channel the good-natured, kind curiosity of a newborn baby and wholeheartedly learn to connect across cultures without judgment?
By learning, connecting, and understanding each other, we can tear down walls that cause misunderstanding and suspicion. The first step is to channel our inner goodness and make choices that bring peace within ourselves. The next step is extending our branches outward to reach and awaken the innate goodness all around us, by contacting and connecting with others, and growing stronger together.
Throughout the turmoil of 2020, we have discussed current news, learned the facts, and you have expressed your resentment on the prevalence of injustice. What do you think are the next steps?
What steps can you take to make a small change to contribute to universal goodness? Is Chinese Confucianism’s World Harmony（世界大同 ）an inachieveable utopia or can we collectively make progress toward peace?