I like simple people. Simple people see the world in black and white. Good versus evil. Good job versus crappy job. They say it like it is, without holding anything back. Just like the boy who pointed out to the emperor that he had no clothes.
I still remember the day somebody called me a “straight shooter”. I don’t remember the context for that comment. But it was not the first time I came across as a particularly forthright person. I can also see that trait reflected in my selection of friends. I have always been drawn to people who wear their hearts on their sleeves, people who are unafraid to call somebody out when they see injustice and stand up for themselves when they are pushed around. But that particular trait has never sat well with my culture, least of all with my parents.
I cannot speak for all Asian cultures, but at least in the Chinese culture, there are invisible lines in our interactions that one cannot cross. In every conversation not just with outsiders, but also with relatives, I am cautioned to tread carefully with every word I say – to sugarcoat every sentence in flattering language so as not to be offensive. It’s widely known that the Chinese value harmony over anything else. This is particularly crucial, as I have been told, with older people, maybe not with my generation (anyone born after 1980, Generation X or Y or Z). Likewise I have been advised to read between the lines. What people say does not express what they truly mean just like I have been advised by my father to coat my language with the most dazzling words I can find. As my Chinese vocabulary is quite limited, finding the “right” mix of words has been challenging. Personally, I find all this charade very exhausting. My culture’s obsession with beating around the bush is discombobulating. An innocent child can be culture-brainwashed into somebody that is not within his/her nature. We are here in this world for a limited time; why make life this much more difficult when there are more urgent world problems to solve? Why can’t we simplify our lives just a bit so we can focus on the bigger picture?
I grew up in Canada but my family abides by the invisible rules of their generation from China. Even today, as I plan to visit my relatives in China, my parents are concerned with my forthrightness and no-nonsense attitude. They are concerned that I will easily offend and embarrass them as parents. In other words, I will not be able to fit in very well during this trip to China.
As somebody who has always lived by her principles, I really have nothing to apologize for. I may be an oddball in my culture. But all I know is that I am grateful that I was raised in a country that places a premium on individual thought and freedom to speak up. I am grateful I don’t have to live a life dictated by what everyone else might think of me. If I have to tiptoe around even my relatives, then maybe they are not very good relatives for not accepting me to begin with. Maybe I am just that simple. Is simplicity too much to ask for?