Thursday, January 10, 2013

Journalism in China, again in the news

Yowzer. Since I whined about the poor quality of journalism in China no effective and innovative organizing had caught my ear. Until this: press freedom row erupts over censored editorial.

The British Telegraph reports: "Yesterday hundreds of people converged outside the Guangzhou newsroom of the Southern Weekend in a rare street protest. Photographs posted on social media showed demonstrators carrying signs calling for 'free press, constitutional government and democracy'." Interviews also illuminated the incident on PBS Newshour.

Following the awkward and mysterious succession of Xi Jinping to the highest rank in Chinese governance, small moves to straighten crooks in power and to narrow internet access blew up with an otherwise unremarkable order to replace criticism with a Party-cheering editorial piece in a regional newspaper. What's more, lay people supported the journalist strike and authorities invited them to return to work without persecution for protest. Capitulations like this perk up the most jaded of China watchers, but what about Chinese citizens?

Despite the paper having been allowed to go to press "as normal" today editors still fear reprisal from the government for statements to foreign reporters. What can we do to support press freedoms and legal treatment of dissidents?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A lesson from Buddha

In Buddhism we learn to bypass the pendulum of suffering and satisfaction with equanimity for life's ups and downs. Just two blocks from my Buddhist meditation center an SUV honked at me and sped down a fork in the road. After the usual series of large-speeding-vehicle close shaves on my bike, it frightened and angered me so much my only relief was in fantasizing about shooting electric pulses to shut down his computer system, stalling the car. By the end of a half hour meditation, I wished him love and safety in sincere compassion. I had found a gentle kindness toward myself which spawned kindness toward everyone around me. If only I can balance survival instincts with compassion in my everyday life.

I have an older friend who looks a generation younger than he is. He sheds his suffering and ecstasy by exploding them instantly from his body, keeping his vitality and a light heart. For those around him, though, the unfiltered expressions pass anguish from his body and heart to theirs. Perhaps this is the old "drama" I've criticized before. What can this teach me?

He is teaching me that bottling up my emotional responses to fit my standards of appropriate behavior and of identity harms me. At the same time, I have to be mindful about the solution so I don't simply transfer the harms to empathetic friends around me. This brings us back to my experience of kindness.

If we can feel unconditional kindness (love, compassion, or any other name) toward ourselves, then we can extend it to those around us and still the pendulum of suffering. We need to confront the barrage of distraction: money, information, relationships, household, judgment; in order to return to our fundamental selves. Self care is a growing value. Identity, though, can be a distraction itself, putting up barriers and drumming up defensiveness and judgment. Buddhism and many other practices offer generosity as a solution.

It's not generosity as reason, e.g. giving to this needy organization fits my ideals, but as instinct. That same empathy that shakes me up when I'm near my explosive friend gives me peace when I can share my security and kindness with others.