I find that societies are like people in so much as they each have their own value system, which both exemplifies and solidifies itself every time there is a conflict between two values in the system. For example: Batman’s value system is such that when the values of safety and justice come in conflict, he will choose justice. As Batman encounters more conflicts and makes decisions, he effectively provides us with a rough sketch of his value ranking. A similar case can be made for societies. When I was studying abroad in France, I noticed that the word “logique” or “logic” was used in a much higher frequency than in America. It was such that language provided a window into the minds of the French, a society which inspired Descartes’ cogito.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the experience of listening actively to word frequency in America, but I would imagine that the word “time” would probably come up a lot more than in any other society. In French, the word time can be translated as “fois,” “temps,” or “heure” depending on the context. (I don’t have time to ask her what time it is two times…Je n’ai pas le temps de lui demander deux fois quelle heure il est.) In both China AND France, people will “pass time” (passer du temps and 过时间), but in America, we spend time. Perhaps this is why America is the land of 8-minute abs, where time is money and planning is second nature. If France is a country of logic, then America is the country of time management.
So where does China come in? The word that I hear in China at a shockingly high frequency is the word “和谐“ meaning “harmony”. It can also be used as a verb meaning “to censor”… leading to the humorous translation, “He was harmonized because of what he said about Chairman Mao.” In a country whose language has only one word for both “question” and “problem,” logic and punctuality definitely take back seats to harmony. There is also a strange Chirony which even some Chinese people have pointed out to me since I’ve been here. Harmony is SO important that if someone is disturbing the societal harmony by cutting in line, listening to music with no headphones, or engaging in a violent domestic dispute in broad daylight, it is better NOT to acknowledge the breach of social harmony, out of fear of causing greater social disharmony.
Now, for my own personal harmony in China, I see things a different way… or should we say, “hear them differently.” In recent weeks, the singing group I’ve been working with for the past two years, K-VOX, has improved far beyond my expectations. After my first year, I saw K-VOX as a success in developing confidence, commitment, and creativity, but not successful musically. This was enough for me last year, as creating a fantastic musical ensemble was never one of the goals of Peace Corps service. Nevertheless, the group continued to grow in quality, and what initially would have passed slowly became unsatisfactory. I’m not sure when it really happened, but K-VOX started really listening to each other and making music rather than just singing together.
Last week, we all went to another Peace Corps volunteer’s site in Zunyi to hold a joint concert with a newly started acappella group there named Zing. Their group was inspired by ours and even sings some of the same songs that we learned last year. It was really great to see the passion for music and extracurriculars spreading to other schools as well as seeing a strong juxtaposition of a group after two months of practice, and a group after two years. Now, K-VOX successfully sings with dynamics, key changes, and a harmony that is birthed from closely listening to others rather than from ignoring dissidence. It was quite the harmonious final chapter of my time here with K-VOX.