Thoughts for My People

Not foreign, just new

“Review the old and learn anew” is a quote from one of the Analects by an ancient Chinese philosopher C. that I keep reminding myself.


Because I was brought up in the Western world, many of my thoughts I present and ideas I bring forward appear different and strange, or foreign, to my people. They have difficulty understanding where I am coming from and where I am going with my thoughts and ideas. As such, I was often told “that’s not the way things are done in our country” and had my thoughts and ideas dismissed.


At first I thought, with much resentment, that I was being kept out of discussions because I was being too opinionated and loud in an Asian society.

Maybe I was seen to be too pushy with my thoughts and ideas, voicing them without being asked.

Maybe I was viewed to be disrespectful of the elders, speaking up before them.

Maybe I was perceived to be defiant, saying things out of turn.


Feeling discouraged, I tried to be more modest and polite and compliant, waiting patiently for my turn to come and sneaking in my voice only after the elders have spoken. And yet, I was still told “that won’t suit the way things are done in our country” and had my thoughts and ideas excused.


Well then, I thought, maybe I need to find out first the way things are done before I could get anyone to listen to me! I learned customs and practices, and listened closely to the words of the elders. I now know a lot more about how and why things are done the way they are. And because of that, I am now more capable of presenting my thoughts and bringing forward my ideas in line with the way things are done here.


Maybe my thoughts and ideas are still different and strange to my people. But they are no longer foreign… only new, as they are seen to be on a continuum from the old. Now, there are times I have my people tell me “you really know the way things are done in our country” and get my thoughts and ideas accepted. Sometimes they not only listen, they come to me for opinions – they are learning anew from my reviews of the old!


But most of the time my thoughts and ideas are still dismissed and excused by my people. I try not to feel resentful and discouraged, though. Instead, I take it to mean that I have not reviewed the old enough and still have room to learn anew.


I know that the quote is already quite famous in my country. But I hope that those in my country who are entering a new environment this April, especially the younger minds, will remind themselves of it when feeling different and strange. Whether you are taken to be foreign or new is up to how well you review the old and learn anew.


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