Can People You Disagree with Be Smart?

I don’t know about you, but I’m growing really tired of reading, “Wake up, America!” I’m totally over calling people who do or do not wear masks or go to restaurants “stupid.” It sure feels to me like all of us are being manipulated to find even more ridiculous ways to divide up our citizens so that we’ll focus on yelling at each other rather than figuring out ways to better ALL of our lives.

If you don’t agree with me, you are a stupid sheep person. Or something like that.

This may come as a shock, but I don’t think that all people who question the guidelines we’ve been asked to follow about keeping safe from the coronavirus are stupid. Nope. Here’s what I actually think:

  • They have different priorities from me
  • They have very different life experiences from me
  • They value the ability to do what you as an individual want to more than they value a desire to do what’s best for all
  • They learn from different sources of information
  • They’re influenced by those around them, in their social and cultural circles

Now, all those things could be said about me and my friends if the third item about values was switched around. So, if I think I’m smart and you can say that about me, well, then, all those other folks can also be smart.

I’ve read some quite interesting perspectives from people who would like to mingle more freely that do make perfect sense, given a different set of assumptions than I would make. I’m glad I have read them, because it helps me be clear that there’s more than one way to look at anything. I respect these friends and acquaintances and hope their decisions work out for them, just as I hope mine work out for me.

I really only worry about people who let themselves be fanned into a fury, threatening to hurt nurses or punch people who don’t wear face coverings. None of that’s gonna help any of us live productive lives, earn a living, and enjoy our families, is it?

Let’s take a break from the divisiveness. Image by@paolo2012 via Twenty20

My plea to all is that we make the effort to form our opinions and act based on information from trusted sources and that we make an effort to understand how others might conclude differently. We’re all trying to take care of ourselves. I hope most of us can also try to not harm others as we take care of ourselves, even if we value personal liberty over the collective good. We need each other.

PS: This was just what came out of my head and into the keyboard. I could be completely wrong, perhaps even, dare I say, stupid? But, maybe it will help us think about our own biases and sources.

Book Report: A Hundred Suns

I gobbled up this novel, which I found via my usual method of discovering books, an interview on NPR (National Public Radio in the US). I figure anything Scott Simon likes, I’ll like. I encourage you to read or listen to the interview about A Hundred Suns, with the author, Karin Tanabe.

Nice font on that title, huh?

Tanabe is known for writing historical novels, and this one’s about Vietnam before it was Vietnam, in the 1930s when it was still French Indochina. It’s a period and place I’m interested in and wanted to learn more about, so why not learn history through a novel (it’s how I learned when I was young; those novels about Queen Elizabeth I sure were more interesting than history books, even if they weren’t 100% accurate; after all, neither are history books).

There is so much to like about the book, and I especially liked how each and every character in the book (French people, Americans, and Annamites (what Vietnamese people were called then)) had a fully developed personality. Like real people, each of them had admirable aspects and made plenty of mistakes. Each had prejudices but learned not to be so confident. You end up empathizing with each major character, even though they do some pretty icky things.

Ah, let us pause to enjoy some sedge seeds with curly tendrils. Also enjoy my lack of nails. I miss certain Vietnamese friends, who happen to also do my nails, a lot.

Tanabe, of course, weaves a lot of history into the narrative. You get to see the country from the eyes of the French colonists (ooh, la la, they were fancy), local people who tried to assimilate into French society, wealthy communist sympathizers, grass-roots communists, and of course, random mercenaries. I found it easier to understand the Vietnamese point of view on communism from this book than I did in books I read when I was younger, which all took the capitalist viewpoint exclusively (one character in the book was like me, neither colonial nor communist nor really capitalist…just wanting the best for everyone).

One thing I really liked about the book is how Tanabe portrays relationships between people of different cultures and races. As someone who’s enjoyed being close to Asians in the past and remembers how people STILL looked askance at it in the 1980s, I appreciated how the relationship between the characters Marcelle and Khoi in the 1930s was depicted. I’m so glad that people are much freer to love whoever they want to now.

I actually liked how she portrayed all relationships. She made arranged marriages make more sense, yet showed that both friendship and true love that can grow and change as people mature, as well. Here’s my favorite quote, from Khoi, the rich and handsome silk merchant, talking about two friends:

“We are not perfect people, you and I,” he said, “No one is. Even Anne-Marie and Sinh. I know we hold him up on a pedestal now, but he wasn’t perfect. We all have moments of weakness, of strength, of stupidity. But if we’re lucky, we’ll have even more moments of love.”

A Hundred Suns, page 340.

There were a couple of things that bugged me about the writing style of Tanabe. Sometimes she gets a little didactic and seems to be giving a history lesson rather than letting it come out through the characters. But, there IS a lot of historical context about rubber plantations and such to get through.

And she has a writing style that sometimes bothers me, where at the end of any utterance she inserts some bit of physical description of the character’s eyes, or skin, or something. I have no idea why that style annoys me, but it always seems like the author couldn’t find any other way to add these details, so they get stuck into the dialogue. And I always wonder if whether someone’s skin is tanned or not matters to the story (in this case, I’ll assume the main character’s deepening tan symbolizes her growing understanding of the Asian culture she finds herself immersed in).

Shoot, I’ve totally forgotten to say what the book’s plot has to do with. You see, there’s a nice social-climbing American woman named Jessie who gets her wealthy family sent to Indochine to escape her past. They are a part of the Michelin family, and the husband wanted to do more with tires and rubber and less with writing tour guides. Jessie meets up with locals, both French and Annamite, deals with her servants (fascinating in their own right), travels through the country, and gets drawn into intrigue as she begins to doubt her sanity. Mayhem ensues.

Wow, can I summarize a book, or what? Anyway, I’d say A Hundred Suns is worth getting a hold of. It will take your mind off the present, and you’ll get to meet a lot of fascinating people in an interesting historical context. You might as well learn something!