9/16/12 “Tunnel Vision”

Good day team,

This week’s challenge is about expanding our thinking by remembering that we are not the center of the universe.

This past week, my husband was in China on business. He spent four days in Shanghai and two days in Beijing. While away, he sent me a number of e-mails that I am calling “Letters from Shanghai”. They have reminded me that phrases like “America is the greatest country on earth” or that we are the richest, most innovate country on earth may not exactly be true. More importantly, how these phrases and attitudes lead us to believe that we personally, are the most important person alive or that our problems and accomplishments are more significant than others, is what this challenge is about. But first, I want to share a few paragraphs from “Letters from Shanghai”.

“Today we toured the French Concession, a small section of the old city where the French carved out an autonomous zone after the Opium Wars. The old, French-style brick buildings have been transformed into shops, restaurants and rather exclusive nightclubs where the elite like to hang out. We had lunch at a great restaurant and I had a chance to enjoy traditional Shanghai-ese food – delicious dumplings filled with broth, and assorted meats and seafood. Best Chinese food I’ve had up to now.

“The following day between work and a late afternoon meeting, we did some more sight-seeing. We went to the Yu Gardens (Garden of Peace or Happiness) – an oasis of beauty and serenity right in the middle of the old city of Shanghai. It dates back to 1559. The halls, temples and gardens were built and expanded through a succession of emperors and provincial governors until they became a magnificent complex of walls, water, gardens and beautiful traditional architecture full of carvings, sculpture and decorative arts. The place has been damaged by wars (Opium, WWII) and revolutions. But was completely restored by the PRC (People’s Republic of China) government during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Its peaceful interior is surrounded by a maze of tourist shops and hawkers on the street selling knock-off watches. I was warned to keep a firm grasp on my bag and to beware of pick-pockets. Despite the warnings, all was peaceful and happy.

“The gardens are a perfect contrast to the business outside. It stays cool under the shade of ancient trees and trellises covered by twisting wisteria vines. The koi-filled ponds add to the cooling effect. The noise of the city fades away and you are transported to a much less commercial and much more spiritual place symbolized by the Quan Yin (feminine Buddha) statue standing on the water’s surface near the entrance. I could have stayed here for many hours.

“Shanghai remains a source of amazement to me and a reminder of what a growing economy looks like. I had almost forgotten. The scale of the city is unbelievable with a population estimated to be between 21 and 23 million people. I was reminded of my first view of the Manhattan skyline and its stunning effect on a young man from a small western city. Shanghai might have the same effect on someone from New York. It is that much larger in almost every way. Cranes are everywhere erecting modern office and apartment towers. Traffic is intense. Pedestrians are at the bottom of the food chain. I felt particularly vulnerable to the stealthy electric scooters whizzing by, daring me to get in their way.

“The people seem to always be on a mission. Imagine what it must be like to pursue your ambitions in a country with one billion others trying to do the same thing. Collectively, they have created an economic powerhouse and an incredibly dynamic society. We should not assume that America will lead the world in the 21st century nor provide the model for emerging nations to follow. The Chinese are ascendant. They are creating a vibrant middle class, encouraging innovation, and investing in infrastructure. What are we doing?”

The irony that all of this is occurring in a country that completely embraced communism in the past century is not lost on me. Who would have thought that a country who’s communistic ideology and political structure would have embraced consumerism so rapidly? And, I do not take for granted that I live in a country where I can express my views openly without fear of arrest or incarceration whereas the Chinese cannot. I have not forgotten what they have done to Tibet, which continues to be one of the greatest injustices this planet has seen in my lifetime. But, I also see that my views of communism vs capitalism are outdated and need a refresh.

What strikes me most about my husband’s observations is the importance of exposing ourselves to other cultures and countries so that we don’t embrace such a narrow view of our own lives. It’s easy to blow our difficulties and challenges out of proportion when our worlds are so focused on our everyday activities within the small context of our lives. As an example, last night I was getting so stressed out about overcooking the salmon, when in contrast, I had just read an article the day before about children starving in Syria.

This week, try putting your life in perspective. Whatever it is, is it so important that it makes you forget that there’s an entire world out there and we are about the size of a speck of dust when compared to the universe? Are you blowing things so out of proportion that you can’t imagine other alternatives or possibilities? When was the last time you exposed yourself to a different culture and had the opportunity to see your world differently? Do you remember how wonderful it felt to be in a different country enjoying the differences in food and customs when you did travel?

Try doing something new this week. If you never go to the art museum or attend a performance of classical music, try it out. If you spend most of your evenings in front of the TV, try reading instead or drawing for an hour or two. Sign up for a foreign language class or go to the library and read about a different country and their history. Take your kids to a play or take the team out for an activity. Mix it up so you can broaden your outlook. And, if you’ve never been out of this country, go. Canada and Mexico are not far and even they will show you that there are lots of ways to live.

As Mark Twain so eloquently said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Have a good week!



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