It seems there is much ballyhoo about the torch relay this year. More accurately, there is much ballyhoo about the protests surrounding the torch relay this year. The subject, of course, has become a focus of discussion here and even some of my Chinese friends and English students have asked me directly for my opinion. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for controversy, my opinion isn’t really very interesting.
As an American, I grew up with protests on the TV, radio, newspapers, and even seeing them in person in my state, city, and local community. Different people protesting different things. Intoxicating swirls of diversity and passion. Protests always were and still are a part of my experience as an American citizen, so when I see protestors I really don’t think much about it. Protesters are like clouds in the sky. If you want to, you can stare at them and give some meaning to them or you can just walk past them. Curt but true.
As I grew up, so did my view and understanding of the world; my world became larger then my neighborhood or homeland and protests didn’t just take place in my city or country anymore, they were actually a global phenomenon!
I learned as a young boy that some people are inclined to voice their opinions more than others. Various reasons for doing this exist in the world–which may be the true center of the latest misunderstanding between east and west–but as sure as people are people, there will be someone protesting something in the world. That’s just the way the world is, as I’ve always known it.
It’s important for my Chinese friends to understand that protesters are a minority of people, which is advantageous because the colorful dramatics of protests are often celebrated in media and for this protests can be very successful as an effective form of cheap advertisement. It is disadvantageous because it may seem that the protesters represent the opinion of all or many people, and they don’t. They never do. As an American, I can tell you that even in the most popular of protests that have occurred anytime in the USA, there is always someone who disagrees. From my earliest memories and continuing education of life, I have seen and continue to find that there is always someone who has a different opinion. Again, that’s just the way the world is, as I’ve always known it.
So my recommendation to my Chinese friends and others in the world that are sensitive to this facet of life is, don’t sweat the protests. Every organization that wants some free publicity will use the torch relay to get that publicity. That’s just the nature of a protest and that’s just the way the world is, as I’ve always known it. There’s actually something beautiful about so much variety in the world. We are members of the same human family, yet we take so many different forms, colors, shapes, and have such vastly unique ideas and beliefs.
At the same time, as I’ve already mentioned, what I think might be the true nature of the latest misunderstanding between some people in the east and west lies in the reasons behind the protests. Among some people in the east and west there is a great difference of opinion about the meaning of the torch relay protests and I believe that’s where the true challenge of our age lies. How we can cohabitate as a collective of culturally different nations all seeking limited resource will be our principle challenge. That’s also why I’m actually happy to see the latest apparition of this challenge make such a global appearance. Why? Because my hope is that all the world’s family members (especially the more powerful) are finally in a position where we must communicate and work together. Maybe now we can all finally acknowledge that we have no choice. We no longer have any other options but to communicate and explain ourselves clearly and create an understanding. The world’s family members have for too long given themselves good opportunities to live a self-satisfying life of hate, distrust, mutual ignorance, and war. Maybe now that we are all pushing towards this global economy and are all mutually challenged by the need for food and energy, maybe now we can begin to see the genuinely frail nature of our situation as human beings on this tiny, lonely planet and will act accordingly and with mutual interest for the benefit of all future generations.
The east and west can take this opportunity to establish communications that will address the current and seemingly popular issue of the torch relay protests and ultimately other more pressing issues like food and energy. Now is the time to do that. Right now. “What is the difference in our understanding of things and why does that difference exist?” That question is far more difficult to understand and answer than it seems, but it is vital if we not only want to have a successful Summer Games, but if we are to continue with life as a species after the Summer Games.
As I’ve said repeatedly, my experiences in China have been unique and fantastic so my opinion of China and its people is somewhat biased for this reason. However, I’ve also spent time and energy getting to know a little about China and its people, and that has fueled my passion for improving relations and understanding of this country. On the surface and below, these people are just as frail and flawed and interesting and unique as any other people on Earth. There are reasons that this culture has lasted so long, and I believe we could learn more about that as a way to improve our situation as a global species. There are communication barriers in China, but those exist everywhere in the world and we could all use more of our time and energy to better communicate ourselves to others.
As a boy living in America, I could do nothing but observe the various protests that took place around me because I was just a boy. As an American man living and working in China, my situation is not the same and I’m happy to celebrate both the protesters and the Chinese anti-protesters, so long as we can take this opportunity to explain ourselves and develop the understanding that I see as an imperative for our future survival as a species.