I’ve been thinking about the three poisons (ignorance, attachment, and aversion), but especially about aversion because we frequently cite aversion as a reasonable response to the world as we find it. When we look to explain aversion, we shift attention from whether or not aversion itself is a problem to the question: is our aversion justified or not?
Consider, for example, the quora question, “Why do so many Chinese learners seem to hate Dashan (Mark Rowswell)?” Mark Roswell provided a succinct analysis of why westerners feel aversion toward Dashan:
“In short, the reasons seem to be as follows:
1) Overuse – people are sick and tired of hearing the name Dashan;
2) Resentment (Part A) – Dashan’s not the only Westerner who speaks Chinese fluently;
3) Resentment (Part B) – Being a foreign resident in China is not easy and Dashan gets all the breaks;
4) Political/Cultural – People wish Dashan had more of an edge;
5) Stereotyping – The assumption that Dashan is a performing monkey.
Yes, yes, and yes. But. If we’re giving our time and energy to figuring out why we hate Dashan, then we’re not giving or time and energy to (1) finding ways of politely acknowledging a conversational gambit and then adroitly changing the topic to one of common interest; (2) working through our own ego investments in speaking Chinese well: ‘Why,’ we wonder, ‘aren’t the Chinese complimenting moi?’; (3) being happy for someone else’s good fortune; (4) being the critical change we want to see in the world in general and China in particular, and; (5) becoming more proactive in our own lives.
At this level, justifying aversion seems like a party game; ‘Where’s the harm?’ you may wonder. The harm is in training ourselves to use our time and energy to justify our aversion rather than training ourselves to live that much more compassionately. In fact, by searching for answers to the question, “Why do so many Chinese learners seem to hate Dashan”?, we end up justifying our aversion, rather than figuring out how to overcome it.
Unfortunately, our habitual rehashing and refining our sense of aversion often snowballs into justification for hating groups of people, such as Chinese students in the United States. Consider the following abridged quote from a recent China Law Blog post on the reasons that US students dislike Mainland Chinese students:
- “They don’t come here to learn. They just come here for the grades.”
- “I am convinced that if our teacher asked the class what 2+2 equals, and nobody spoke up who is not from China, not a single student from China would answer.”
- “I cannot even stand having to listen to them give presentations. Their English is terrible and they don’t even try. Somebody else must have taken the tests for them.”
- “You will never see any of them at any school function. Never ever ever. Unless it can help them with a grade.”
- “I’ve heard that most of them cheated to get in.”
- “The school claims they contribute to diversity. That’s a complete lie. How can someone who never says anything contribute to anything? Everyone knows they are here only because they pay the foreign tuition rate.
- “This is a great way to ruin relations between China and us.”
Again, the underlying logic in these sentences is the same as that in the Dashan party game; I feel aversion for X because Y. In fact, the self-evident logic of aversion means that in the CLB post no one actually has to say “I dislike Chinese students.” Instead, all that is necessary is giving the reason for feeling aversion. Thus, CLB reports US students having said, “They came for the grades; don’t talk in class; don’t participate in school events”. Nevertheless, the message in every sentence is the same: I dislike Chinese students.
As with hating on Dashan, so with hating on Mainland students. The time and energy given to justifying aversion for Chinese students limits the time and energy we have for (1) creating an academic system in which learning and grading are more integrated; (2) teaching discussion based math classes, where the point isn’t to answer how much is 2+2, but rather discussing how abstraction works; (3) holding university admissions departments accountable for the English language ability of admitted students, or having an English fundamentals requirement before students transfer to the formal undergraduate program; (4) developing more inclusive school events, which would mean figuring out what kinds of events not only Chinese, but more foreign students might enjoy; (5) going cold turkey on listening to negative gossip about people we already are inclined to dislike; (6) realizing that diversity means ‘different from me’ and not merely ‘different in a way that I like’, and; (7) figuring out how to make US-China relations better one person at a time.
All this to make a simple point: the problem is never the object of our aversion, but aversion itself because there is always a more creative and interesting and compassionate means of responding to the world as we find it. Easier said than done, perhaps, and yet so much better than the alternative.