Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Disorganized Thoughts About Differences

Things happen here that I never would have thought about if I didn't experience it here and now, doing this job.  For instance, when you learn Japanese writing, you learn the stroke order.  Stroke order tells you which line should be drawn first and in which direction it should be drawn.  Like this:

The numbers tell you which line comes first and the arrows tell you in which direction to write.  Well, I always thought this was unique to Japanese when compared with English, but you watch a Japanese student write an 'a' like they are writing a '2' or write an 'e' from the bottom up, and you will think differently.

Stroke order is confusing for me sometimes because many hiragana have a similar look or shape, but are written differently.  This morning I was at a friend's home learning Japanese, and I was self conscious writing hiragana in front of her.  She got out a stroke order chart from one of her child's books for learning, and we looked it over together.  I showed her that 'ma' and 'mo' look similar, but have different orders.  Also, I consider the longest line, or the most central line, "the base" of the character.  For 'mo' you write the base first, but for 'ma' you don't.



My friend was surprised at the way I looked at them and the words I used to describe them.  Having grown up with them, she saw katakana through the filter of a completely different life.

This experience helps me feel some satisfaction with more complex differences I experience with people, such as when talking endlessly in the US about politics.  I find it very difficult to understand, truly baffling for me to understand why someone would choose to support a certain platform or person.  Though the topics are so different, having this hiragana experience with a Japanese person helped me to see that two people's differences may be root deep; too deep to be even of their own choosing, but rather unconscious, cultural truths of their lives.  With inflammatory topics like religion or abortion people generally respond with their emotions, which manifest through blame and accusations.  But I have witnessed that differences, and the reasons for the differences, can sometimes be more innocent than I generally imagine, especially when I see harm being done out of a lack of empathy or understanding.  Truths, contrary to the desires of my dwindling youthful idealism, are as subjective as everything else.      

When learning hiragana in college, I developed ideas about them, as one is wont to do about anything - we have to form judgements around things so that we have a place to put them in our minds.  Then I came face to face with a native Japanese speaker who didn't exactly explain how she sees them, but she showed interest in the way I perceive them.  With hiragana, I didn't have to think twice; she was the expert, and I deferred to her perception. Not that my POV lacks value, but if one of us has to be right, as a native speaker and writer, she wins.

In politics, we are all touting our opinions and passions with equal ignorance, and the complexity of the subject compounds the difficulty.  Even brilliant people with degrees and titles sound like they are full of crap, and they act that way, too, on the news and in interviews.  How are we to make intelligent, informed decisions when everyone is lying and cheating, including the people you are desperately defending and voting for, and the rules are changing everyday?    

In politics, it's so complicated that people stop thinking and, honestly, don't have the time to really dissect the issues, as convoluted as they are, and they end up just resting on the idea that the other person is an idiot.  Don't tell me you haven't done it.  When people are debating about the national budget, and health care, and the solution seems so simple to you, it's tiresome, and you quit, and you go on thinking you are right and they are wrong.  We rarely have a really enlightening, foundation shaking experience, and even if it were available to you, would you be open to it? 

I am.  The roots of these problems matter to me.  I don't want to go about my trip to buy a pair of shoes and cooking dinner and getting sleep for work tomorrow.  I want to know WHAT is going on.  WHY it is going on.  I want to think about it, write about it, ponder and discuss it.  I wish someone would pay me to do that.

We have to be born somewhere, and that somewhere forms the foundation of our points of view.  When it comes to American politics, we basically have two lots to choose from, and if our parents get us started on lot A, we oftentimes stay on lot A.  It's deeper than facts and trends.  Our stances rest on deep foundations nurtured for decades, and might even rely on nature.  Perhaps you are republican because generations of your family hail from the north and have been republican since the party's inception.  Two people can dissect the same line of dialogue from a play and write completely different papers about it.  I heard that people who grow up in Asian countries actually have a different brain structure than people who grow up in Western countries.  And two people from different countries can look at a couple of hiragana and see two different worlds of cultural history.  So we want to draw the lines differently.  Regardless of the topic, it probably matters less than we imagine, since eventually, it'll all be dust.

From Japan,

1 comment:

Megan said...

Very thought-provoking, Tiff. Reminds me of when I learned that you could take a math test for the military and they would determine what languages you'd be best suited to learn based on your scores. I thought, how does math relate to language? But the way your brain works in higher levels of math often equates to how your brain will interpret and understand various types of languages, especially symbol based languages such as the one you are learning!

The mind is an amazing thing to study. It's good that you are making these connections in your brain, it'll only help you ingrain what you are learning even more!