I admit, I had preconceived expectations about China and its people. Looking back, I’m not sure why. I had assumptions that we would see poverty and vast lands filled with workers. I battled the childhood reminder that there were people starving here, and that–for some reason–the food on my plate would somehow fix a problem on the opposite side of the world. At first glance, It isn’t like that at all.
“Some folks inherit star spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer More! more! more! y’all”
-Creedence Clearwater Revival
Don’t get me wrong, there is very likely poverty in China. I’m not denying that there are people starving in nearly every corner the world. I’m just saying that in the places that we have seen, China resembles the working class cities of the United States. Yes, it is much larger. The city of Guangzhou, as we learned yesterday, boasts nearly 15 million people. That is a massive number of people. Keep in mind, that of the top 25 cities in the world 8 of them are in China. The largest in the United States, New York, comes in at number 27.
Those statistics aren’t meant to elicit fear, by any means. I get the sense that the people of China have much the same wants and needs as the people of the United States. They seek stability, a good job where they can grow and excel, the ability to fairly support a family, the freedom to do what brings them fulfillment. They do great things. They build great buildings, love beauty, and most of all treat their aged with respect.
I watched this morning at breakfast as one of the many hostesses helped an elderly woman to her seat at the table across from me. Even as she held her hand, and gently led her to her table, the warm feelings that came over me were nearly too much. My eyes welled a bit, as they often do when I see someone so graciously cared for. After a bit, the hostess returned to help her fill her plate and take her food back to her table. I’m sure this happens in the United States. My grandmother and I used to go to Bishop’s cafeteria in Clive, Iowa back in the day and I used to eat dinner with her. I never knew how much that would mean to me today. How precious those moments were. I used to really dislike that place. She must have known that one day I would look back and miss it.
There is this barrier that exists in our culture, often it is between the young and the old. Sometimes, it isn’t an age thing at all. It is perspective. For many, you cross over this barrier when you can finally put yourself in another person’s shoes. You become more gracious and understand the day-to-day struggle of those around you.
On our tour yesterday we caught a glimpse of the basketball courts on the campus of Jabil, an electronics manufacturer in Guangzhou. Our tour group passed a group of employees walking from their campus dorm. Their eyes widened. I saw a few of them glance upward as we passed, and made eye contact just briefly with one young person who nodded as if to say ‘hello’. I was walking with another six-foot plus program participant. They must have thought that we were giants. It just further reinforced that I am, indeed, a giant.
Our guide spoke of the basketball courts and how they were used by employees either before or after their shift, sometimes during the day. I offered to put a team together. She giggled a bit. I would hope that my advantage would play out as I would anticipate, but I am not so sure. Every one of the employees we observed looked as if they were on a mission. It was clear from the start that they were accountable to serve their customer and do their best work possible.
Politically, the world is filled with tension. There is talk of buttons, and war, and the size of the war cache. There is talk of the rich making war and poor having to fight it. That is not leadership.
Leadership is the shared accomplishment of building together. This trip has increased my hope that young people will stand together in the realization that we aren’t so different. Just look at Google Translate. The barrier of language is nearly broken. We are even more connected than ever, and poised to share in the success of achievement throughout the world. It can’t be done with threats because even as you threaten one, the others are wondering if they can trust your partnership.