Art and Aesthetics · Politics

Given to Official Liu

One morning I woke in a sweat. Instinctively, I picked up my smartphone. Banner ads for insurance products and shampoo competed with news feeds about imminent wars and man-made disasters. Everywhere I looked it seemed the world was going up in flames.  I wanted to write something about it, but recoiled at the thought of undressing myself on a blog. After all, writing is perhaps the most ignoble of the arts, as the writer constantly and indecently picks and prods and cannibalizes oneself, until just the mouth is left. And then what? I walked out of my house in a daze.

Later that day, after hearing of my troubles, Shangyin gave me a wry smile. Fine wrinkles radiated from his laughing eyes.

“The greatest challenge each of us has these days is overcoming fear,” he said. “Our politicians stoke fear in us like an anvil stokes a fire. Their motives are various, but often it is because they have lived their lives in fear. We in turn welcome their fear, it clouds our minds, and sets us apart from the other: poverty, immigrants, dark- (or light-) skinned people, strange religions and customs, being alone or ignored, mocked, unloved.  Divisions build in society and we lose our way.”

I nodded, “What can one do?”

“The antidotes to fear are empathy and hope,” he replied, “That is to say, the willingness to empathize with strangers on the one hand, and the belief that better days lie ahead. Yet, each of us must first recognize our fear, confront it. Look at the fear in your mind. Do not judge it, but observe it. Then, ask yourself “Why am I feeling this fear?”  Just observing one’s fear has surprisingly positive consequences. Empathy helps us understand why we are afraid, and often lessens that fear as we realize how close we all are at the end of the day.”


江风扬浪动云根,  jiāng fēng yáng làng dòng yún gēn,

重碇危樯白日昏。  zhòng;chóng dìng wēi qiáng  bái rì hūn。

已断燕鸿初起势,  yǐ duàn yàn hóng chū qǐ shì,

更惊骚客后归魂。  gèng;gēng jīng  sāo kè hòu guī hún。

汉廷急诏谁先入,  hàn tíng jí zhào shuí xiān rù,

楚路高歌自欲翻。  chǔ lù  gāo gē zì yù fān。

万里相逢欢复泣,  wàn lǐ  xiāng féng huān fù qì,

凤巢西隔九重门。  fèng cháo xī gé jiǔ zhòng;chóng mén。


Buffeted by waves and gusts of wind where the clouds arise

Heavy anchors and perilous masts lie tethered from dusk to dawn.

As swallows and wild geese are banned from flying aloft

The Tragic Poet’s soul is bothered anew.

Which original mind has the Imperial Court demoted?

Balladeers on the high roads of Chu sing and explain.

Ten thousand miles away, in places of joy and tears

Nested in western courtyards, the Phoenix hides its fears!

Reading by Mark Obama Ndesandjo

Musical Interlude: On Empathy,
composed for piano and played by Mark Obama Ndesandjo

Can instrumental music make one cry? If so, why and how? This is the greatest mystery and beauty of music.

 Musical Interlude: Rachmaninoff Prelude Op 23 No 2 in B Flat performed by Mark Obama Ndesandjo

What an uplifting and magnificent prelude this is! The themes soar like eagles high in the air, and the melting middle section is one of the greatest moments in classical piano. The whole piece is a repudiation of fear.

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