A lot can be said for silence. It’s underrated. And rare. Most people these days bore easily. Me, too. A friend of mine’s mom said, “People who are bored are boring!” She’s got a point. Thanks, mom!
In Chinese there’s a concept known as wu wei, which means “doing without trying.” That is, in the sense of trying too hard. One thing that makes modern life so hard is it’s gotten so competitive. I live in Seoul, Korea, and one of my students wrote in a speech that this is the most competitive country in the world. He may be right about that.
Competition does have its place, especially in the business world. If anything, the world of commerce is becoming less competitive due to the power of the giant conglomerates. If everyone in the U.S. turns their backs on bookstores and reads everything on a battery-operated pad, who’s to say which books will survive? You can bet there’ll be a lot of trees falling in the woods that no one will be around anymore to hear.
The same thing is happening with the ocean. It’s “out of sight, out of mind” for millions of undiscovered creatures most of us are too preoccupied to pay attention to. Fishing companies that use long-lines, drift-nets, and trawlers whisk away anything in their vast path and scrape the sea floor clean. In her book The World Is Blue, oceanographer Sylvia A. Earle points out in loving detail not only what wonders we stand to lose, but also how dependent we are on oxygen generated by the sea.
Thanks to global warming, the ocean’s becoming more acidic–bad news for coral reefs, phytoplankton, and the other creatures on the food chain who depend on them for their survival. The good news is we’ve accidentally created a recipe for seafood-flavored salad dressing.
Speaking of books, one of the things I like about going to bookstores is finding things by chance. Can such random windfalls ensue when you go to Amazon? I doubt it. (Not that Amazon isn’t an amazing service–don’t get me wrong–it’s just that it’s getting dizzyingly big.)
For example, I found the Sylvia Earle book at a used bookstore a few weeks ago, which led me to watch her prizewinning TED Talk and share it with my students, who enjoyed it thanks to closed-captions intrepidly provided by one of their tech-savvy classmates. I don’t know if it would have been as easy to find if I’d gone to an online bookstore.
I also found and read a gem by country-folk singer Todd Snider, a guy I’d never even heard of, called I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like. Here’s a man who’s led a charmed life, a fellow living his dream. He radiates genuine positive energy, something I need more of these days. I’m grateful for the favor. You can tell by the photo of the author on the front cover that he’s a character, and he delivers inspiration and entertainment mined from his own experience.
I watched and listened to a couple of his songs on YouTube after reading the book; it may take me a while to acquire a taste for his music, as I’m not a big C & W fan, but the guy’s got a lot of heart.
Now reading another memoir by Yu Hua called China in Ten Words. Although I’ve never been to China, and I’ve given that poor country a bad rap for helping to contaminate Seoul’s unbreathable skies, now I feel as if I have been there, thanks to Yu. In one particularly funny scene, he describes how he had trouble crying when he heard the news of Mao Zedong’s death. It was just too hard for him to get over seeing a thousand people all crying their brains out at the same time about someone they’d never even met. A high school student at the time, he started laughing uncontrollably, a dangerous act that could have gotten him killed. In order not to get busted, he leaned over the back of the chair in front of him and buried his head in his arms, so that his muffled guffaws were mistaken for grief.
Remind me to try that some time.
Whoever you are, don’t let anyone else tell you who or how to be.
(Or else you can thank them for the favor and proceed to ignore their advice.)
And don’t be yourself unless you want to.