Tragedies

These days the world seems increasingly frightening. You only have to turn on the news to be inundated with horror stories of violence and sorrow. Every day it seems a new tragedy strikes our world. It’s easy to wonder what happened. What caused this increase in pain? I’ve spoken to many young adults of my generation and heard them asking this and similar questions. Studying history has led me to an uneasy answer—it hasn’t increased. The world is no more messed up than it was in the past. In fact, many aspects of society have improved. Death rates have decreased and many victims now have legal recourse against assailants. For much of history, most victims of violent crimes had to suffer in silence. So what did change? Why does the world appear so much worse?

The short answer is technology. Through radio, television, and now internet, we see atrocities. We know the death tolls and the faces of the victims. We see the results, and we hear of these occurrences immediately. The other change is actually positive—we care more. Most ancient civilizations had at least one group of people they considered lesser, sometimes not even seeing them as human. This mindset led to the targeting of women, children, and minorities often with little to no societal or legal repercussion. Today, most people have a visceral reaction against such ideas. Thus, when a shooting or rape occurs and is reported, most people are upset and offended. This shows how far we’ve come.

The problem is the people who haven’t progressed with the rest of humanity. Some people still look at certain groups and deny their personhood. Does an individual renounce their humanity when they move to a new country or they choose someone to date? Of course they don’t. So it’s time to stop living in the Dark Ages. Murder is a crime. Rape is a crime. The victim is a person, so there is no excuse for the perpetrator. It doesn’t matter what boxes we can fit them into, we’re all humans. We live in the 21st century. Don’t let fear or hatred turn back the clock on society.

The Road Ahead

Three weeks left. It’s a crazy thought. How did it become the end of the semester so soon? I’m three weeks away from being half-way done with my college career. Where did it go? And even scarier—it’ll be over a year until I next sit here on the OU campus. When I move out of my dorm room and make the drive home, I won’t be coming back until my senior year. Thinking of how much can change in a year or a month or even a single day, what will life be like when I return? Will I know my friends still? Will they still know me? This year has been a roller-coaster of growth and laughter and pain. I don’t know if I could have gotten through it alone. Now I prepare myself to bid these wonderful friends goodbye and embark on my first journey alone.

I’ve spent summers productively in the past. Last summer for instance I traveled to China and took a variety of classes both home and abroad. This year I could take classes once again, but I’d rather find an internship. I’ve been searching since winter, and I haven’t had much luck. However, I have a couple leads left, so there is still hope for me. I want to grow. I can be productive and get classes out of the way, but I won’t grow by testing out of classes again. I really need this opportunity to put myself in a new situation. Then again, when the summer ends I’ll be plunged headfirst into a new world, so perhaps a summer of comfort isn’t such a bad idea.

For those who don’t know, I’m studying in Japan this upcoming year. I’ll be at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. It’s incredibly exciting, but also quite scary. I’ve never been to Japan. I’m not fluent in the language. This upcoming year will likely be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. However, despite all that, it may also be one of the best times of my life. I’ve been waiting for this forever. I’ve spent almost two years now studying Japanese diligently to prepare. And now it’s time to see the results. Now it’s time to fly. The paperwork is turned in. I’ve looked through the class list and attended the pre-departure orientations. Now, I have to wait. Wait and watch the skies. The future awaits.

Modern Women

I am a woman. I grew up knowing that pink was the proper color for me, that I should one day look like a Barbie doll, and that boys were gross. These were all parts of my childhood, though I later grew to realize their inaccuracies. As I grew older I believed that I could be a scientist, author, lawyer, even a corporate executive if I were willing to put in the time and effort to succeed. Now, I know that, although I can be whatever I want, I will have to be willing to work harder than my male peers and make sacrifices that a lot of my female peers will choose not to make. We’re all “equal,” but in a tie between me and an equally qualified male, I lose. All of these are facets of my life as a modern American woman. However, I’m not staying here. I have flying to do. Birds aren’t meant to stay in a single tree their whole lives. So what does it mean to be a modern woman somewhere else?

The other day, I attended a lecture on gender in contemporary China given by Kevin Carrico, who focuses his research on China and the dichotomy between tradition and progress in modern Chinese culture. He was telling us about “Ladies’ Academies,” finishing schools of sorts scattered across China. In these institutions, men graciously transform wild modern women into pure, traditional Chinese women. These young ladies learn important feminine skills like cooking, embroidery, and a deep understanding of the Chinese classics that define a women’s place. Dr. Carrico went to one of these academies to talk to the men who ran it. They explained that these academies were necessary because the balance of yin and yang was off; that women had ceased to be women and thus men were turning to gambling and alcohol and prostitutes to satisfy the emptiness in their homes. Apparently, all problems in modern Chinese culture can be traced to this failure of women to keep to their sphere. Men in all these changes have been the victims. And what of the women who come to these schools? Many are seeking to make themselves more attractive to men in order to find a husband.

I’ve wondered before how my life is going to play out. I don’t want to raise a family or stay at home, yet many of my beliefs and values are very conservative. The balance between liberal goals and conservative values will always be a difficult line for me to walk, and it will only get harder as I one day begin to look for another to share this journey with me, so I understand the motives of these young ladies. However, the idea of preying on fears of solitude in order to promote a worldview that treats women as a scapegoat for all society’s problems is sickening. The world has changed over the past centuries—this is a fact. Not every change has been good, but that doesn’t mean all progress is evil either. Perhaps the changed role of women has been one of the factors in the larger societal changes, but no problem is simple enough to assign all blame to a single player.

The lecture made me stop and reconsider my own place again. My role as a modern woman is infinitely more complex than I had imagined. I will spend my life fighting to be seen as me, Kestrel, not as a faceless woman, modern or otherwise. I believe that my gender is part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. I can be strong and a leader and successful. I can be ambitious and put aside the idea of raising a family in favor of building a name in the world. Does that make me some sort of societal ill, upsetting the delicate balance of the universe? I’d like to think the universe is much less sensitive than we humans are. If the universe does in fact care about the minutiae of what I do with my life, I think we may have bigger problems than me choosing not to be a housewife.

Cowboys, Gentlemen, and Samurai

Growing up I always loved cultures. I loved learning how different people from different countries could hear the same stories and understand them in different ways. I wanted to see the world through the lenses of other cultures, so that I didn’t miss those other meanings to the common stories of my childhood. As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to see that culture affects far more than just stories. The effect of culture and language on brain functions, values, and business has only become apparent to me recently. But now that I have been exposed to these new sides of culture, I thirst to learn more.

Earlier this week, I had the incredible honor of working as an honorary intern at an event hosted by the Texas TriCities chapter of NACD, a nonprofit that works with boards of directors. This particular event was a fireside chat with Lady Barbara Judge, a pioneer and champion for women in international business. She has worked in the United States, Great Britain, and Japan in both the public and private sectors. Listening to her discussion of cultures and the business climates of these three vastly different countries was exhilarating. Although I wish I could cut off my words here and instead post a transcription of the conversation, neither of us has time for that. Instead, I will share her analogies for the specific business cultures of the three countries.

The United States, where I and probably most of you live, is filled with cowboys. As a native Texan, I fully understand this imagery. Cowboys like open spaces. They live freely and ride out towards the horizon with little thought to where exactly they are. However, cowboys don’t trespass. In general, if they see a fence, they’ll stop and find a new direction to ride. This is how business in the United States works. Generally, people do what they want and ride as they will. But we have laws, and they are not meant to be broken. We keep our fences brightly painted to make sure they are not missed.

Unsurprisingly, Great Britain is not inhabited by cowboys. The Brits can best be described as gentlemen. Gentlemen, unlike cowboys, don’t ride alone. Gentlemen sit in clubs and their actions are defined by the group. There are no set rules most of the time. And yet, people all do essentially what they are supposed to because gentlemen have codes. These codes keep the gentlemen together and in line. Unlike rules, which are meant to be followed, codes have an underlying theme of “comply or explain.” Not every code will be followed by everyone, but those who choose not to comply must explain why the code is not best for them. This allows for more flexibility in cases of diverse interests, but also limits the freedom of exploration that cowboys tend to embrace.

Lastly, you have Japan. In Japan, the idea of corporate governance is still new, and so isn’t as well defined yet. Most of what they have has been imported from the West, so elements of cowboys and gentlemen mix with the native culture. Lady Judge suspects that we will find that Japan is still filled with samurai. Samurai are strong, with the freedom and independence of cowboys and the codes of conduct of gentlemen. But samurai have something all their own: honor. Samurai and the business culture of Japan will be ruled by honor. Rules or codes will be enforced by the thought of the shame that would result from breaking them.

After Lady Judge finished her description of these cultures, the moderator, Anna Catalano, who has also worked extensively abroad, made a comment about having spent five years in London trying to work as a cowboy in a gentlemen’s club. Although intended to be a humorous comment, I realized that she was right. I was born a cowboy in a lot of ways. But if I want to find a niche abroad and actually succeed in other business cultures, I’ll need to learn to be a gentleman and a samurai and any number of other things. I will never succeed if I try to go abroad as a cowboy. Instead I have to become a part of whatever culture I’m trying to work in. Only then will I succeed in this vast and diverse world.

The Origin of Stigmas

Like perhaps many Americans of my generation, I grew up seeing items in stores labeled with the oh-so-familiar “Made in China” stamp. I thought this was a mark of poor quality and cheap materials. I had no foundation for this belief—it was simply that which I had always known. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that this stigma may in fact be unfounded. Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Dr. Elyssa Faison, a history professor at the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Faison’s lecture focused on the American views of the major economic powers of the East at the time of their rise, namely China and Japan.

In the late 1940s, just after the close of World War II, Japan was making great strides to rebuild its economy after the war. And yet, the American perspective on Japanese goods was less than optimistic. The label “Made in Japan” was a running joke because who wanted cheap Japanese goods? This all too familiar situation did not, however, stem from actual poor quality goods. Instead, a slew of propaganda created for the war had been slowly released from production and began to invade the minds of the populace. These “documentaries” and advertisements accused the Japanese of underselling Western products and pirating Western designs. Thus the global image of the Japanese economy turned sour. These ideas remained prevalent into the 1980s when Japanese electronics and cars began to find their way into the West. For years, the older generations were hesitant about trusting Japanese made cars and gadgets, but slowly the old stereotypes began to die and were replaced by a respect for the strong and unyielding Japanese economy.

As I listened to Dr. Faison’s lecture, I was struck by the similarity between these outdated ideas about Japan and my own childhood beliefs about China’s economy. Therefore, I was very curious to find out how these representations came to be transferred from Japan to China. The answer should not be surprising. Just as US propaganda painted the Japanese as scammers and thieves for the sake of WWII, the rise of Communism in China drove the US to declare a new enemy. Propaganda once again served its purpose and dictated a generation or more’s view of an entire nation.

That’s the path these ideas took to their resting place in my childhood beliefs. There is little to no evidence to back up either of these stereotypes, and yet they are very hard to displace. Many Americans still consider Chinese goods to be inherently cheap. Given time, we will, hopefully, overcome these misconceptions. Then we will be able to see other cultures for what they truly are, rather than for what an outside power paints them to be.

Heroes for Today

Last weekend the new James Bond movie came out. I didn’t grow up with James Bond, but since coming to college I have seen several of the movies and found that overall I enjoy them. As such, when a group of my friends decided to go see Spectre on opening weekend, I opted to go with them. I have no intention of weighing in on whether it was a good movie. I enjoyed it, but that’s all I intend to say about the movie. What I do want to talk about is the protagonist.

Since going to the movie, I’ve become increasingly aware of the admiration many Americans have for Bond. More importantly, I’ve realized that many of my friends have a surprisingly strong desire to be like him. Perhaps I’ve just missed something, but I don’t like Bond all that much. He’s arrogant, reckless, and, for all his strength and cool gadgets, unable to protect those he cares about. The movies are fun, but I don’t want them to be more than stories. I also don’t want my little brother, or anyone to be honest, growing up with a desire to be like James Bond. Bond is an outdated icon of a world many people are glad we have escaped.

Our nation and our world are currently embroiled in debates about diversity and equality. I generally try to avoid these debates because I feel as if I am unqualified to say anything about these issues. I try my best to listen to the calls for equality and embrace diversity in my own life, but I avoid joining the discussion beyond that. Today, I am going to make a comment—if we want to change our world, let’s start with our children and the next generation. Instead of raising our children with icons like James Bond, let’s find new icons who embody the ideals we desire to see in our young people. Does our world really need a James Bond in this day and age? I don’t think so. Perhaps it’s time we found better heroes.

A Dinner with Journalists

Last year I learned about the President’s Associates dinners and attended an informal discussion with Mr. Robert Gates. This year I was eager to finally attend one of the actual dinners. Last week, that opportunity came. A friend of mine and I went together to the dinner, ready to hear from two giants of journalism, Bob Schieffer and Jim Lehrer. Although journalism is not among my fields of interest or study, the insight of these two men was phenomenal. Both of them had worked for many years reporting from Washington, and so their thoughts on the current political environment were particularly interesting.

They explained how, in their opinion, many of the problems in Washington stem from the “industrialization” of politics. The political sphere has become an industry dominated by professional players. It’s not about getting stuff done, it’s about getting in. This has increasingly led to the polarization of parties. The moderates are disappearing from politics. And it’s the moderates who are most important in Washington. Without compromising on little things, the government shuts down, literally. I agree with them wholeheartedly. Politics shouldn’t be like picking teams in schoolyard sports. “I want pro-choice so you have to be pro-life” or “I’m fiscally conservative, so you can’t be!” That’s not how party politics should be. If it is, maybe we shouldn’t have party politics. I don’t know why no one in the world of politics seems able to say “I agree with you” to anyone of another party. I feel like on most things we should agree. We all want our country to function, right? Surely none of us really want to eternally spiral deeper into debt. Instead of starting all our debates and decisions from a position of opposition, we need to start by identifying our common goals and interests. We can only make progress if we start from common ground.

America can’t lead the world if it can’t lead itself. We will lose any and all respect we have in the international community if we can’t get ourselves together. And because of the money, that’s not going to happen from the top down. It has to come from the bottom up. If we, the voters and the future politicians of America, don’t step up, nothing will change. And if nothing changes, there won’t be anything left to lead. We are the future of America. We need to be knowledgeable and willing to take the hard steps to make politics about governing again instead of about getting elected and making money. The longer we wait to make a change, the harder it will be to change the system. This is our country too. Let’s focus on bringing people into office who are willing to work with one another rather than unilaterally push their own agendas through. I don’t care how good those agendas seem—we’re better off with a team player. And it’s up to us, the people, to make that happen.

 

P.S. If that started to sound rant-y I apologize. I strive to avoid political rants in anything I post online. (Partially because I’m not informed enough to be worth listening to.) However, I wanted to discuss the dinner, and that was the part that most resonated with me.