Monday, January 12, 2009

Xǐ Bù Xǐhuan?

In Which I Get More Personal Than Usual 

I have no shortage of friends and family that find it difficult or unacceptable to talk about their feelings.  I don't mean to imply that my social sphere is populated entirely with expressionless stoics.  However, while I know many people who will discuss their deepest desires and shames at the drop of a hat, I also know quite a few who run almost entirely on logic.  I was not raised to run exclusively on logic.  I understand it, and it helps me, but if I were asked (as I have been in the past) to ignore my feelings, or to not feel them at all, I wouldn't know how to respond.  The ways I feel about things - my likes and dislikes, my awe and fear and excitement and anger, my love and faith and hope - are as much a part of my interface with the world as is my skin.  I could no more peel it away than I could flay myself.  Sometimes, because of this, it's hard for me to interact with those who do not admit feeling into their spheres of life, or at least their spheres of discourse.  I say something like, "I am sad about such-and-such," and they say, "Just change it," and the conversation is over.

I recently had a discussion here about making plans.  A friend and I were trying to decide what to do over Chinese New Year.  My friend asked me to suggest some places, so I considered for a few days and concluded that I'd like to see the Palace Museum again, and also take a little walk somewhere in the mountains.  Then, having given my input, I asked my friend, "What would you like to do over Chinese New Year?"  Communication suddenly broke down.  

According to my friend, this is a cultural difference.  While I agree wholeheartedly, I don't think that the cultural split in this case lies on international political boundaries.  Some people both here and in the States appear to be as open to feeling hope and sadness and anger and glee as most people are to seeing shapes and colors.  And some, in both countries, seem to be deliberately closing their eyes, saying that the information is too much, too confusing, too extreme.  Too inconvenient, too dangerous.  There is, perhaps, a traditional predisposition towards that kind of thinking here.  There are so many rules, and sometimes it's easier to follow them than to think about them.  Taiwan's Yoda says "Do or do not, there is no like."

Call me a hippy (and some of you will, derisively), but I'd much rather be affected by love and wonder and loss than live in a world that had none.  I am a collector and collator of data, and how I feel about the world is information as valuable to me as logical thought.  I see no reason they cannot co-exist and improve upon each other.

Perhaps all of this sounds a bit defensive.  I am grateful to my friend for talking about this subject, one which I've never found anyone "stoic" able to talk about before.  It made me think, and I'm glad to have a better understanding of why someone might choose only logic, why someone might choose only black and white.  More, I'm glad to have that understanding and still know that I choose to like things.

(Note: The title of this post asks "Do you like it or not?")

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