March 21st, 2009
In fact, if you don’t go and understand the other side, how could you know that you understand yourself?
That’s from Yang Hengjun’s excellent and thought-provoking post on walls. Well worth a read.
And he’s fair about it, too. Although he starts with a conversation with a Chinese researcher who doesn’t seem to comprehend why it might be a good idea to go check out what people outside the notorious gfw are saying on his subject, he looks at it the other way, too. There are plenty of people outside China- and, in my experience, foreigners inside China- who have plenty of academic knowledge of China but zero understanding of the Chinese point of view.
Nor is this simply a China/The World problem. I would say it applies everywhere, to any particular pairing you may choose. And to throw in a note of pessimism: I would say most people in this world don’t ever bother to see things from The Other’s (or any other’s) point of view. It’s not so much that people “lead lives of quiet desperation” as that they lead lives of willful ignorance.
Not that I claim any particular understanding for myself- of myself or any others. I’m no different and just as quick to retreat into my tribe when confronted with something different. But I do think it’s worth remembering Yang Hengjun’s words and making the effort to go and understand the other side, if for no other reason than to expand your own mind and understanding.