When I approach the world, when I must make decisions and when I interact with others, I am always concerned with justice and equity. My favorite words are balance, moderation and fairness. I do not believe in black and white; extremism is dangerous in all cases. At a base level, this is the principle I use as my ethical foundation. I have come to understand the importance of balance – of always finding a middle ground – from my experiences abroad, my immersion in poetry and philosophy and my understanding of art.
One of the first times I encountered a stark contrast of lifestyles – a true black versus white experience – was when I studied abroad in China. Chinese culture, I learned, is collectivist. Individualism is a western ideal that the Chinese regard as selfish and inefficient. I spoke to journalism students who said their drive to become reporters stemmed from their drive to represent their country kindly and proudly. In their eyes, the journalist does not act as a government watchdog, but as a pedestal for which to tout the accomplishments of China.
From career choices to family relations to the dinner table, it is crucial for the people of China to share and to build a foundation with individuals acting together as one unit rather than each individual working alone to build her own tall tower.
In an interview for my summer internship last year, the president of the company for which I was interviewing told me he hated China because no one there thinks for himself.
I was shocked. In China, I saw cooperation, care, brotherhood and family everywhere. The president of this company, on the other hand, saw sheep trotting mindlessly along as the government controls them from afar.
German philosopher Hegel theorized that the development of one’s moral conscience comes from encountering what is “other.” He argues that when one confronts something unfamiliar – be it a strange piece of art, a confusing poem or even a person of another race – she has the opportunity to learn from it, to come to terms with it and absorb it as a part of her own understanding of the world. From this emerges a third self: a new consciousness more aware than the last. Hegel says that this process can continue all throughout life, with the emergence of many “third selves.” I found a third self when I experienced Chinese culture: a self that wished for a blend of two cultures.
When I encountered collectivist culture in China, I understood it as fairness. I found it refreshing compared to the cutthroat, competitive culture in America.
However, I also fear for a population so concerned with supporting its government that it forgoes its own rights and allows injustices to occur with no further thought.
American culture and Chinese culture are two extremes. Stark individualism is not effective because it teaches us to hurt one another for the benefit of our own success. Stark collectivism is not effective because it teaches us to abandon our own passions and drives for the good of protecting the “establishment.” An ideal society exists somewhere between these two points. It exists with a compromise between individual happiness and the well being of others. It exists with sacrifice, with some level of discomfort, but never so much that we lose our own selves in the process. In my own actions, I always search for my own ideal: a compromise.