Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Friday, January 20, 2023

A Girl Named Priscilla 

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Priscilla. Priscilla was a delightful child—inquisitive, curious, and active.

As she grew into adulthood, Priscilla developed a problem with sleeplessness. This struggle with sleeplessness began after her mother had put her on a regimen of traditional Chinese medicine. This medicine was not something she took because she was sick. Sometimes Chinese people will take Chinese medicine just because they think it might be good for them. At any rate Priscilla would sometimes go for days without being able to sleep. As this problem became evident, her mother told her to stop taking the Chinese medicine.

Later, after Priscilla moved to the big city to continue her education, she became profoundly depressed. What caused this? Was it a residual effect of the Chinese medicine? Or something else? It is significant that, while she had suffered sleeplessness in her hometown before she came to Kunming, the depression did not develop until she moved to Kunming. Why?

These questions and many more are addressed in my interview with Priscilla. As I do in every interview, I asked Priscilla, “What do you believe?” As I mention in the podcast, years ago I came to the conclusion that there are two questions you must answer if you are going to understand a culture:

So what does belief have to do with something like depression? This is a difficult question to answer. As far as I know, people of every faith suffer from depression. So on an individual level it is hard to define. But is there anything we can say about the society as a whole relative to depression? For example, in China, young women are often subjected to a great deal of pressure if they are still unmarried at a certain age. In China, it is considered shameful for a woman to be single. But the problem does not only come from the beliefs of the people in a young woman’s world. The problem comes also from the fact that young woman herself often buys into the idea that it is shameful for her to be yet unmarried, and, if she ever gets married and has a daughter, she will often impose that same belief on her daughter and pressure her to get married.

Americans do not tend to think that it is shameful for a young woman to be unmarried. Mind you, it is normal for young women to want to get married. That’s true in America, and it’s true in China. The difference is that the Chinese woman carries the extra burden of having everyone around her asking her over and over why she isn’t married yet. That’s not to say that the American way is better. Americans go to the opposite extreme and trivialize marriage to the point where it’s viewed as sort of an extra “add on.” It’s just to say that Chinese young women and American young women have very different pressures because of the beliefs of the people in their society.

This example doesn’t apply to Priscilla directly—I have never heard her express any concern about this issue (perhaps because she is still in her early twenties). But I think it is a good example of how societal beliefs can affect how a person feels about herself. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of time to develop an understanding of the beliefs in a society and whether or not any of them really constitute a general view of life in that society. Ask one person what he believes, and you know what one person believes. Ask a thousand people what they believe, and you get a read on their culture that nothing else can give you.

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