Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chinese Proverb of the Day

What Taiwanese Mothers Teach their Children

"Don't think too much."


A few words on this:

There are many cultural differences between Taiwan and the United States. Some are funny, some are strange, some are expected. This however, is the most foreign concept to me I've yet to encounter. Having always been encouraged to be a "Free Thinker", the idea of "too much thinking," or in reality, "stifling thought" is - to me - absolutely absurd.

When Taiwanese culture has the upper hand on America, I give it to them. Community, for example, is a concept the United States has just about forgotten. But I want to form Community that encourages thought and contemplation and questioning and innovation and creativity. I want to push past the norm for something new. I want to live amongst those willing to analyze and over-analyze all aspects of life; question, doubt, and feel safe doing so.

As I've found out, these concepts are inversely foreign to the Taiwanese. Maybe it's their cultural desire to identify within the group that has indoctrinated in them the idea that out-of-bounds thinking is dangerous.

Within my time here, I've purposefully sought to learn what I can from this foreign culture. Through encountering this "proverb" I've learned just how valuable an open and questioning mind is to my survival.

What's your take? Is thinking dangerous? Is there such a thing as "thinking too much"? What would be the situation where stifling thought is beneficial?


Andhari said...

I like overthinking, analyzing, accepting different thoughts but despite how my country can be more open minded than taiwan at other matters, this just sticks. The never question, the everything-is-drawn-already kind of thinking. That's an Asian thing.

floreta said...

i think this stems from buddhist/taoist principles of going with the flow, clearing your mind. in meditation you often try to empty your mind from thoughts. feel the emotions then let go. don't hold on to it. detach.

you make good points. i think it's good to question things, be curios, etc. "i think therefore i am" is a very westernized thought. well don't quote me on this but buddhist thought is probably more like "i am" haha. no thinking involved.

i think there are some benefits to 'detaching'... overanalyzing can make the mind (at least me personally, haha) unstable.. but i also would encourage freethinking so there's a fine line/balance.

*shrugs* sorry for the long (overthinking!) comment but i don't think you mind. :)

Chase said...

@Andi, from what I've seen, I'd agree that it's "an Asian thing." One thing I didn't say in this post, though, is that Taiwan is changing with the up-and-coming generation. East meets West. We'll see

@Floreta, "I think therefore I am" vs "I am" haha. "How am I not myself?"
And no need to apologize for an over-analytical comment! That's what I wanted to cultivate out of you ;)

Anonymous said...

I just have to point out that I think “Don’t think too much” has become the mantra of America. We are so concerned that we are a nation of feelers and doers that I would argue we lack greatly in the realm of thought. We have a large amount of people with degrees….but those degrees are career training, not education or thought teaching. This is why even those in my line of work get more classes on how to lead people, then on the thoughts, ideas and realities we are leading them to.

Let’s be serious…being called an “American” in terms of intellect is far from flattering.

Jon and Steph said...

I need to LIVE by these words! completely LIVE by them.

Sebastian said...

As Floreta says, that whole train of thought came about from the whole attempt at being 'nothingness' for millennia. The ultimate state of being was to... pop out of existence. Poof.

But Western thinking is exactly the opposite. We are defined by our possessions and how we affect the world.

Sure, you can break it down into over-thinking vs. going-with-the-flow, but I think it's much more about just living with your lot -- don't go chasing the impossible dream!!

(Not necessarily the optimum solution, but perhaps better than 3 billion Asians all trying to be philosophers...)

Chase said...

@Sam, I have to agree with you. I think Americans still do a fair amount of thinking - and are certainly open to it when people do - I just don't think they spend their thoughts on anything useful.

@Steph, Let me know how that works out :P

@Seb, it's certainly an interesting set of options... which is better? To believe you can succeed at an impossible dream (and set trying into action), or to accept your lot.

Let's consider Kung Fu Panda here (riddled with surprisingly accurate Asian-cultural nuances)... Panda's father says he's a Noodle Guy... but Panda wants to be a Kung Fu Master.
It's a good thing for the townspeople that Panda didn't accept his lot in life... Kadoosh.

Amy said...

I think this is where I've been lucky in having i) an English mother to temper the Asian side, and ii) an international school education.

I'm a lot more open-minded about most issues than my relatives as a result. Malaysia as a country isn't known for it's openmindedness, which is highly frustrating sometimes. While my Asian side does come through in my penchant for delineation, I do appreciate breaking those lines at time.

Does this make any sense?


Chase said...

@Amy, that totally makes sense. It's like the best of both worlds. :P

Readin said...

I just have to point out that I think “Don’t think too much” has become the mantra of America

In one sense you are correct. Witness Obama's Supreme Court Justice candidate whose primary qualification seems to be empathy rather than intellect.

But in more general terms, our problem is that we are taught to think but not the knowledge to apply to the thinking. I work with educated people. Yet I can't even suggest they see a great movie like "Casablanca" without having to explain where Casablanca is, what was going on in the 1940s in America, what was going on in the 1940s in Europe and north Africa, what "Vichy France" was, etc. etc. still more etc..
Why? Because the kids aren't taught basic facts of history.

You can pick pretty much any academic subject and you get the same thing. The kids are taught to open their minds, to see things from different points of view, to understand relativity and logic. But they aren't given enough knowledge to be able to make use of those thinking skills.

Readin said...

Not thinking too much helps promote social harmony. If no one is thinking or questioning, then everyone is agreeing to whatever happens to have already been said. If someone thinks, finds a better way, and tries to change things, they run into conflicts with the top of the pecking order and into conflicts with those who have already made themselves comfortable with the current way of doing things.

If you do think, you are often better off not telling others about it.

That's human nature, and you find it to some extent in all societies. It would seem natural that societies where hierarchy and group are considered more important would also be more willing to discourage independent thought.

Chase said...

@Readin, Thank you for stopping by the blog. I definitely value your input. Yeah, notice how I didn't contribute to America their vast and powerful abilities for thinking well... just that they're open to it, and encourage it. That's the culture I'm from. I probably shouldn't really say anything bad about this mindset, it's just that the "stifling thought to preserve the group" mentality is, well frankly, foreign.

Nonetheless, I agree with you (and Sam) on every level with the American Commentary.

Bethany said...

Chase-thanks for your comment on my blog, much appreciated.

I enjoyed this post because those were some of my main frustrations when I was teaching in Taiwan. I sometimes felt like my head was going to explode trying to understand their mentality about things.

I'm sure you have loads of great stories:)--it's such an interesting place in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

@Readin: I would agree with your assessment to a point….but I don’t think America teaches much logic given that they care only about open-mindedness. I’m listening to lectures presently via iTunes U from UC Berkley on Rhetoric. The professor’s “profound” statement is that there is no actual good or evil and no actual right or wrong, merely points of view. He falls into the Lyotardian school that there are no metanarratives. It’s cute. And its very open-minded. But basic logic points out its self-refuting. And that’s the problem with America’s intellect…we’ve bought so heavy into postmodernism that we drowned logic in an ocean of pathos.

Readin said...

Sam saidI’m listening to lectures presently via iTunes U from UC Berkley on Rhetoric. The professor’s “profound” statement is that there is no actual good or evil and no actual right or wrong, merely points of view.Well, if you're talking about professors at ivy league and similar universities, you probably have a point. They are a self-selecting pool that has inbred to the point of ridicule.

But they are not typical of America. And when Americans do get instruction from the likes of them, we produce really good thinkers and really bad thinkers. The really bad thinkers just go along and assume that because they agree with the professor they must be really smart. But the better thinkers in the class are forced into greater independent thought. They know there is good and evil. They know there is right and wrong. Yet their professor is spouting nonsense. The better thinkers are then forced to investigate further and deeper - to understand not only what their professor is saying, but why he is wrong.

Such thinkers don't go into academia because they know they won't get very far.

But getting back to the run of the mill student a non-ivy league university: they do get the basic logic training. They don't always get it in formal terms, but they get it other ways. They are taught from a very early age to distinguish "fact" from "opinion". They are taught to question the teacher rather than just to listen and accept.

Young Traveler said...

Thinking is dangerous--it starts revolutions.

(But I like revolutions).

Awesome, thought provoking post, Chase. Per your usual style.

Anonymous said...

how is the proverb "Don't think too much" said / spelled in Chinese?