Saturday, January 10, 2015

Filial Piety in the Land of the Individual

Being raised with two different cultures can be freeing as well as confusing. It is freeing to know that ideals I've been taught are not absolute. It's confusing to have to decide so often between conflicting values espoused by the different cultures. My Asian side says I have to respect my parents' wishes. My American side says I have to find out what makes me happy despite what others think. Both ideals have value, but taking either one to an extreme to the exclusion of the other can lead me to trouble.

Primary relationships create a template for just about all of one's future relationships. During a child's early years with his parents, the more primitive parts of the brain develop preverbal reaction patterns. They are entrenched in a way cerebral reasoning can barely touch. Try as we might to run away from people who exhibit the same behavior as our parents, we can't run away from our imprints, which we project onto the present situation or relationship. This is why I think developing good rapport with your parents is important. Otherwise, you'll just play out the same problematic patterns in varying degrees with other people or institutions. For instance, my father having educated me in a punitive way, I have a bad association with being taught by a person and can only fruitfully learn from books or personal experimentation.

I must willfully contest my automatic reactions to my father if I am to clear out my limitations in dealing with authority. As my reptile and limbic brain kick in, I fire a rational salvo, "There must be another way to see this." With a lot of repetition, I may be able to erode the stubborn feelings and world-view that keep me stuck as a 5 year old.

It is true that one is ultimately responsible for choosing one's values, but that doesn't discount respecting others' views. In fact, it is in the acceptance that another person is doing the best they can in the context of their experience that one develops trust in one's own ability and experience. If you see someone as an incorrigible idiot who acts like a know-it-all despite his lack of self-awareness, what makes you safe from that very indictment? Think about it really logically. You could be in the same exact category and not even know it because not-knowing is precisely the definition of that label you so liberally apply to others.

On the other hand, respecting another's opinion doesn't mean you must internalize it and precisely follow its dictates. Your own experience and biases are just as important and should be carefully weighed against theirs and any evidence that can be gleaned from the present moment. Just take care not to let individualism become knee-jerk rebellion to any foreign opinion, which only furthers the tenor of oppression in one's life. True freedom is freedom from all tyrannical opinions, even one's own.

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