A few days ago, I spoke at a conference, in Shanghai, on the subject of consciousness. Well, the conference was about consciousness, but I spoke about empathy. Specifically how I discovered the depth of my empathy through depression, introspection, plant medicine and ultimately tuning into the feelings of others.
What struck me most was the different masks the Chinese wear compared to us Americans. We Americans tend to cover up our feelings by pretending to be okay, or happy, or doing well. We have few socially acceptable outlets for anger or grief, fewer still for sadness, and virtually none at all for misery or, incredibly, joy. Our strategy for hiding these emotions is to project a false self who is empowered, confident and clear. We've got it covered. That's our story.
Not so with the Chinese. They're allowed frustration and anger. Beyond that, though, they seem, on the whole, to be playing poker. The mask is emotionless drive -- the undeterred acheiver who is satisfied (never delighted) when the job is done and hyper-focused on whatever task comes next. They project, or try to project, a detached deference to the rules. And they allow themselves outrage when someone does otherwise.
These masks are important. They're there for a reason. They teach us what we value. What I suggested in my talk is that we start valuing the emotions too, start seeing what's really going on, at least in ourselves. We don't beat ourselves up for our culturally conditioned stories. We forgive ourselves, we patiently walk into our own truth, and we step out again when we can't handle it. And so on, with compassion, until we eventually make friends with ourselves.