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He writes and lectures about issues at the intersection of business practices, religious worldviews, and ethics. Anchee Min was born in Shanghai in She came to the United States in Majora Carter is founder and executive director of Sustainable South Bronx. She was awarded a MacArthur "genius grant" in
We walked in silence and listened to the sound of our broken shoes tapping the dirt. Swarms of flies chased the coffin. Each time the footmen paused for a break the flies covered the lid like a blanket. Mother asked my sister Rong, my brother Kuei Hsiang and me to keep the flies away. But we were too exhausted to lift our arms. We had been traveling north along the Grand Canal on foot because we had no money to hire a boat. My feet were covered with blisters.
The landscape on both sides of the path was bleak. The water in the canal was low and dirt- brown. Beyond it were barren hills, which extended mile after mile.
There were fewer inns to be seen. The ones that we did come upon were infested with lice. She gained no sympathy. The next dawn the footmen abandoned the coffin. Mother sat down on a rock by the road.
She had a ring of sores sprouting around her mouth. Rong and Kuei Hsiang discussed burying our father where he was. It was he who insisted that I learn to read. At the age of five I thought that being born in the Year of the Sheep was bad luck. I told my father that my friends in the village said that my birth sign was an inauspicious one.
It meant that I would be slaughtered. Father disagreed. You were born on the tenth day of the tenth moon, which fell on the twenty-ninth of November The astrologer believed that double ten was too strong.
He liked the fact that the plant stood green in all seasons and its flower was elegant in color, graceful in form and sweet in scent. When I close my eyes, I can see my old man standing in a gray cotton gown. He was slender with Confucian features. It is hard to imagine from his gentle look that his Yehoonala ancestors were Manchu Bannermen who lived on horseback. Father told me that they were originally from the Nu Cheng people in the state of Manchuria, in northern China between Mongolia and Korea.
The name Yehonala meant that our roots could be traced to the Yeho tribe of the Nala clan in the sixteenth century. My father inherited the title of Manchu Bannerman of the Blue Rank, although the title gave him little but honor. When I was ten years old my father became the taotai, or governor, of a small town called Wuhu, in Anhwei province. I have fond memories of that time, although many consider Wuhu a terrible place.
During the summer months the temperature stayed above one hundred degrees, day and night. Each morning my sheet would be soaked with sweat. Nevertheless, I loved Wuhu as a child. But, of course, the problem has been globally in all cultures, you know, over the last 20 years or so that we have become more and more greedy individually and, at the same time, more and more frightened individually. On the one hand, we can make huge amounts of money.
So the problem is that we have created the global system in which we have a choice between having a lot and having nothing.
Whereas traditionally, you know, you went to your farm, you did your best and, of course, you waited for the rains, but really at the end of the day, you got something. I look to two sources, one is to Jesus personally as it were, to Jesus the person, and secondly to the Bible. These are the two sources to which I go to give me the peace of mind, as I say, in terms of my relationship with God.
But even if it gives very simple things in mind, they would make a lot of difference. For example, the keeping of the Sabbath. What is the keeping of the Sabbath all about? I could be productive on this day, but I deliberately choose not to be productive on this day so that I can orient myself to something other than what is material.
There are very simple principles given there by which we can release ourselves from the materialism of our society. She is finding that Buddhist teaching on suffering, suffering as an elemental aspect of human reality, sheds a helpful light on our common economic present. She finds in this an edifying contrast to some of the default analysis of crisis that Western culture provides.
If we ourselves are suffering, we feel humiliated, not just in pain, but actually humiliated, like we should have been able to control it. I mean, of course, I come from my own life story, you know, where there were so many secrets in my family. So I experienced not only the pain of the conflicts or the loss or the situation, but also that terrible kind of ambient silence that surrounds it, that very strange kind of silence.
So I think it is, in many ways, a kind of cultural norm that is really a tremendous burden on all of us because, after all, one of the things that should make us closer is our vulnerability. But anyone who really looks deeply into life knows that life can change on a dime. Then as we look for solutions in our own personal lives or as a society, the solutions need to reflect that deeper understanding. Then we can be so impatient and so judgmental of ourselves and scornful of others, and we need to just, like, take a breath, you know, and recognize that many people are being driven by fear, that we need to help ourselves and others go underneath that fear.
I think the very practical methods — certainly that I rely on, that are the core of my own life —have to do with meditation. You know, so much of us struggle because we get very frightened or very angry and we hardly even know it. He considers the moral and spiritual aspects of economic crisis as a public theologian. His current project is on the nature of trust and what it takes to build cultures of trust. Martin Marty sees the current economic downturn as the end of a century of two competing visions of social order, a socialist ideology which regulated industry by suppressing freedom, and a free market ideology that, when taken to an extreme, suppressed public concern for the other.
All political groups, all economic groups were acting that way. All my life, I have turned and still turn and command others to turn to sustained friendships. We need each other more than ever, and they give us lessons. I make a distinction between, for example, famous people and celebrities. I think a lot of the CEOs had boards that were quacks.
You appoint this person and give them huge salaries, a huge bonus, and sort of fall down and worship them until it all falls down. Friendship is different. Get off your high horse. This time you went too far. Can I help you out of this along the way? And when you do, there are four things that you do that will always go partly wrong. We thought that we were wise, and now we find that we were foolish in what we were teaching new generations and how we set things up.
I think I find that so consistently in the Scriptures, but I also find it in philosophers, in Marcus Aurelius and many others that I have to dust off the shelves to look at again.
Listen to fuller conversations with the guests in this program and explore other voices, including an Evangelical minister and a secular humanist, an economics professor and a poet. Find links to all this and more at speakingoffaith. After a short break, other fresh and bracing approaches to economic crisis: scientist of stress Esther Sternberg, Chinese-American novelist Anchee Min, urban environmentalist Majora Carter, and Armenian Orthodox theologian and gardener Vigen Guroian.
Speaking of Faith comes to you from American Public Media. We made a list of our guests across the years who we thought might offer fresh and compelling wisdom. We called them up at home and spoke with them by telephone. We asked her the same three questions that guided all the reflections of this hour: What are you doing now that is different? Do you consider this economic moment to be a moral or spiritual crisis?
I view it more in a biological sense or at least my solutions to it or how to deal with it come from the biology. And when you think about it, I mean, the situations are quite different, but there are similarities and there are similarities that trigger the biological stress response. So what are the symptoms? We worry, of course, about all the things that could happen, that might happen. It can certainly affect our moods. And that just amplifies and contributes more to the stress and anxiety and depression.
And all of a sudden, now we have to reverse our expectations. Gaining control over a situation is a very potent way of reducing the stress response. But apart from that, you can gain control over other parts of your life. Social support, social ties, are a great way to counter stress. Altruism is another terrific way to counter stress and to help the situation.
You can take a neighbor out for a walk. You can bring some food over to a neighbor. Whatever it is that you can do will help the situation in a tiny little way, but you add up all those tiny little ways to help in a neighborhood, in a community, you know, in a culture, and it adds up just as you add up all the stress and anxiety and it adds up too, so you can begin to chip away at that.
I thought of my father who came through the war and the Holocaust, and he was a very nonjudgmental person. He would often pull out the Bible from — after dinner. He was not a very religious person. It was the 23rd Psalm that I remember most. But you can come through terrible times and you can find the strength and sometimes the terrible times can actually give you the strength to move forward and actually to come up with creative new solutions in your own life and in the lives of others.
You know, you see the stock markets falling, you see your retirement disappearing. He was always committed to the public good. I can write about this. I can help other people.
I can speak about it. Whatever I can do to help others helps me weather it too.
Anchee Min is a novelist whose writing centers around the modern and ancient history of China. Her reaction to the economic present and American reactions to it are galvanized by her personal history of living through the most brutal era of Chinese communism under Chairman Mao, including several years she spent in a forced labor camp. I am an immigrant and a new American, and I came to this country in This is what I see. You can do anything as long as you dream hard. When I arrived in , I remember I envied the homeless for two things.
First, they speak English. Second, right to work for yourself. I was so grateful. This whole thing makes me even think more about life, and I think more of life as a gift from God that they gave me and how I cherish it and how I should have gratitude, because happiness is contentment.