Everyday I spend time with my roommate discussing life and its anomalies, often times, while I should be working on essays or researching. Call it what you will: procrastination, laziness, misplaced priorities, immaturity, or whatever. The point is, I put off an assignment or obligation knowing that it needs to be completed in a timely manner, stay awake later than intended, and always regret it as I fall asleep at my desk. The pertinent question is, “WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?!” Normally, I would respond, “well, Chels, you’re an irresponsible bozo that doesn’t have her priorities straight.” Harsh, however, no matter how much time I do not have, sleep I lose, or tears I cry, I make time for that conversation. There is a reason I take time to listen and to be heard, and it’s because those conversations help me to make sense of life - corporate profits and broken hearts, prisoners dilemma and stomach aches, Michael Jackson and hair products etc. Does this value actually make me a bozo? Well, assumingly, it makes me a human bozo. Yes, I could have used that hour to study, but how would my mind feel? I value communicating directly and transparently with people. Using words as an outgrowth of the urge to communicate complex ideas, nuanced experiences and motley emotions is one of the most underrated tools we have. It is just as important to one’s health as running or sleeping because to speak, to hear, to absorb is to gain a bigger and richer experience with the world.
With that said, as I sat on the bus to Dalian Nationalities University, our trip mentor, Marc, inquired about a name tag I held in my hand. He asked where I got it from and why I planned to leave it in China, with the university, as a gift. I went on to explain that it was from an Amnesty International conference I attended in D.C. not too long ago. It was there that I congregated with people who had a similar interest to me - creating positive impacts in places that needed them most. However, I did not really know why I chose it. I actually felt nervous about giving it to people who are not necessarily all activists and worried it may not be well-received. I did not choose the Amnesty tag as a political statement or call to action. Essentially, it was small and it meant something to me so I threw it in my bag and went on with life.
However, as I conversed with Marc he helped me to realize a few things. A key point of Amnesty conferences is letting your voice be heard, learning to adequately communicate your thoughts and beliefs, and calling the world to action. Marc reassured me that the tag was a good choice, and he reminded me that a lot of students had never heard of protesting or even considered it. I turned and looked out the window, in silence, to let that sink, first, into my mind and then my heart. I stared as barren land, progressively being taken advantage of by man’s desires, passed by and my eyes began to leak. Windowless buildings, excavators, and cars littered a vast plain that was literally once a mountain. I thought about how a group of people, so beautiful, kind, and vivid, may never know what it is like to wholly, painstakingly, and unconditionally communicate a desire. That maybe they would not feel something unaffected by what they are told to feel (usually to be happy). It struck me that they probably never have and may never demand something from the government. In class, Chinese students don’t raise their hands to speak as often, and critical thinking is not required let alone encouraged. In that yellow tag is a lot of emotion, pain, triumph and passion. I wondered if the students I had met in Dalian would or have ever experienced something like that.
When I presented my gift I was nervous. I feared stumbling on my words, forgetting an important thought, that there was something on my face, or that they would not understand the fast pace of my words. As I glanced from face to face and eye to eye, each uniquely beautiful, I realized that these were my peers, my equals and my friends. Though I feared a lot of things, of one thing I became sure - I needed to communicate my feelings, and they deserved my voice, honesty and sincerity. If communication is the most precious interaction between human beings, who was I to deny my thoughts and feelings from a group of people who wanted them? As I spoke, Marc gave me a thumbs up and I agreed. After my presentation they clapped and I rushed to my seat, thankful it was over.
Ultimately, I learned quite a bit about myself and my values while I was in China. More importantly, I left quizzical and bewildered - a sure sign of learning. Am I really as free of a thinker as I fancy myself to be? Is their value to being told what to feel? If the Chinese students did speak freely to me, what would they say? If the Chinese professors felt as comfortable communicating as we do, what would there be to learn? Sometimes the most silent people have the most interesting thoughts, and it saddens me that the world is denied those voices. I end this essay thankful for and cognizant of my privilege and voice. China was, from my eyes, a bizarre, curious, enlightening and whimsically beautiful place.