Taiwan’s 7-11 culture feeds hopelessness

DECEMBER 4, 2017

I want to be a mindful Taiwanese citizen in action. I long for a Taiwanese society that has hope of a better future, a future we all feel powerful enough to build through our mindful actions. To this end, we must put an end to our 7-11 culture, because it is a mindful-action-killer. My own mindful action is to build a curriculum that will coach Taiwanese students to build their own“mindful project.”

7-11 CULTURE

Convenience(方便) is what we, as Taiwanese, value the most. Taiwan prides itself for being a “convenient” place. If you were to ask Taiwanese people living abroad what is the one thing they miss about home, be certain that 90% of the answers will be along the lines of: “I miss how everything in Taiwan is so convenient.” The concept of Convenience (方便) is epitomised by the convenience store (便利商店)called 7-11, a 20m2 one-stop shop in which you can do anything from buying your meal or shampoo to doing your laundry or paying your water bills. The crazy thing about Taiwan is that a single street often has several 7-11(type) stores on each side of the road. Yes, this is real convenience: you don’t even need to cross the road to find anything you might need. I used to love Taiwanese convenience, but I now realise it is poisonous.



MINDFUL ACTION

My issue with our 7-11 culture is that it kills what I call mindful actions – a personal action taken to impact positively the world around us. In mindful action I attach as much importance to the word “mindful” as well as the word “action.”

To be “mindful” means to be conscious or aware of the world around us. A mindful person is a person aware of the (positive or negative) impact his behaviour has on the world. A mindful person knows that if he beats his kid, there are high chances the kid will end-up having low self-confidence. A mindful person knows that if he drives his car instead of taking public transports, he contributes to higher levels of pollution.

By “action” I refer to personal human action. Action is about practicality. “Action” is to be contrasted with “talk” and “thoughts.” Even if we can just think or talk about how we want things to change, we need to put thoughts and words into action to be able to change things. I can’t just think that beating my kid is a bad idea. If I care about his level of self-confidence, I should also stop beating him. I can’t just complain about the pollution in Taipei city. I also need to stop using my car and take public transports (and maybe convince other people around me to do the same). Thus, an “action” relates to the present, while talk and thoughts relate to the future. Action bridges the present and the future, giving humans the proof and confidence that they can do things, and change things.

Rather than talking and complaining about the state of the world, I perform a mindful action and start by changing my own behaviour to reach the new state I want to see. A “mindful action” tells me that the change can start now, in the present, and that I am the actor of that change.

7-11 CULTURE KILLING MINDFUL ACTION

The 7-11 culture of convenience kills the “mindful” and the “action.”

The 7-11 culture of convenience kills “action” because “convenient” basically means as little action as possible. It turns us into passive beings because the only thing that is then valued is how little efforts I need to make, and how little time I need to spend. In the 7-11 culture the only value taken into account in the price/value ratio is how little I had to bother.

As a result, the 7-11 culture also kills “mindful” because if a culture only values how little I had to bother, it basically ignores all other externalities. The 7-11 culture ignores an action’s externalities such as good health, good aesthetics or a clean environment. For example, my Taiwanese aunt would go out and buy breakfast every morning, coming back with 10 plastic bags, one for each rice ball, one for each sandwich. The hot soya milk is also put in a plastic bag in which you insert a plastic straw. If she was mindful, she would know that eating hot food in thin plastic gives cancer, she would also know that presenting the breakfast in a plastic bag is ugly, as well as polluting. But she probably thinks that all this is secondary because convenience supersedes all other considerations: At least there is no need to wash any plate, there is no need to spend time cooking and shopping for groceries.

TALK OVER ACTION AND HOPELESSNESS

The side effect of the 7-11 culture is that it promotes talk over action, feeding a feeling of hopelessness. What often strikes me is how eloquent any Taiwanese person is when it comes to describing the issues in Taiwanese society. Taiwan is not only famous for its 7-11 convenience stores, but also for its political talk-show in which speakers criticise and yell at the state of taiwanese society. Democratic freedom has created an environment in which people are well aware the issues in their society and are highly critical. However, the end-sentence of their eloquent speech tends to be something along the line of: “this is taiwan, and there is nothing we can do about it” or “that’s the way it is.”

I feel a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness in Taiwanese society. Certainly, the political situation, and the pressure from big China is not helping. On top of that the Taiwanese culture venerates big entreprises(大企業). Thus, Taiwanese people often consider that these big enterprises should be the ones taking initiatives. “Small” citizens on the other hand, are too poor to affect any change (沒辦法,我們小市民沒有錢).

But sentences such as “this is taiwan, and there is nothing we can do about it” (台灣就是這樣,沒辦法) create the sense that as Taiwanese, we are too inferior to solve the problem we admit exist; it creates a sense that being taiwanese is about being powerless, obedient and… friendly to foreigners. Of course, we are friendly to foreigners, but that is not the only thing we can do. My view is that a culture of talk over action feeds into this feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness (無力感).

THE POSITIVE IMPACT OF MINDFUL ACTION

A mindful action makes you feel joyful as well as powerful. A mindful action makes you feel like you can change things, and that you are changing. It gives you a place to start from and it gives you some roots. To start might seem a bit painful but it is like exercising: once you start, you get addicted to it because you gain pleasure and fulfilment from it.

It is my own experience which tells me that mindful actions provide joy as well as confidence in my capabilities for the future.

I grew up on a farm in France where my family does everything with their own hands, from the jam, to the oven, to the house. Many times have I invited people over who told me they had the best time of their lives. I think it is because people are touched by how we do things with our hands: We are cold? we cut some wood to make ourselves warm. We want a cake? we go pick up some wild berries to put in the cake. There is something joyful and powerful which emanates from the feeling that you can build things with your own hands.

One of the best experience I have had in my life was called the “Bus Musique.” With a group of friends we set up a crowd-funding and obtained sponsorship to purchase an old bus that we repaired and decorated. We then travelled across Europe and played music in 11 different cities to build friendship and understanding among europeans. We built this project for the fun of it, and because we enjoyed the process. However, I should admit that it was also a good experience to put on my CV or to get into Oxford. Most importantly, I came out of this project feeling “capable” and “powerful.” After all, we were just 20 years old students, with no money, we were not professional musicians or mechanicians.

When I tell my Taiwanese friends about le Bus Musique, I see their eyes full of envy but then I hear something like: “See what westerners do, we Taiwanese are not capable of doing that.” – although there is no reason why such project cannot be built in Taiwan.

Instead of talking about how dirty and messy (髒亂) Taiwan is, instead of talking about how polluted or ugly Taipei is, instead of talking about how powerless we are when DinXin (頂新) sells waste oil instead of clean cooking oil (…) I long for a Taiwan where people take mindful actions: we can just start by using less plastic bags or boycotting certain dirty products. We can also build projects such as the Bus Musique and have a meaningful joyful time. Our 7-11 culture considers action as inconvenient (好麻煩) but when you are in action you are happy, peaceful and free. When you are in action, you feel capable and powerful. I want to be a mindful citizen in action because the way the present is now, is the way the future will be. ( 現在就是未來)

CONCLUSION, AND THOUGHTS ON EDUCATION

I have love for Taiwan and I have the wish for Taiwan to be a land where people are hopeful in the future. Education is a good place to start when it comes to changing a culture. Therefore, the mindful action I want to take is to create a curriculum for Taiwanese kids that will incorporate pedagogical techniques to create children that are proud themselves, self-expressed, curious, joyful, and believe in the possibility of creating an exciting future. In the longer term, I hope for this curriculum to act as a demonstrator, incubator, inspiration and argument for future educational and social reform.

To this end, an important aspect of my curriculum must include sessions aimed at coaching the students to build mindful action projects. A few initiatives in Taiwan now emphasise the need to teach critical thinking and public speaking rather than rote learning. These soft skills are indeed essential; but I want to foster critical thinking as well as critical action. As Montaigne said: “it is a fine harmony when doing and saying go together.”

Rudolf Steiner was the one to point to the value of teaching handcraft to children to awaken creative powers which would find useful application in later life and work. For Steiner, handwork is not meant to provide just a pleasant pastime or to train weavers or potters. Instead, it is to help the young child develop a healthy imagination, a sound judgement, and a balanced thinking. More importantly, Steiner said that by practicing such work, the kid is then able to stand more secure on leaving school, with a basic confidence for managing the practical affairs of life. Similarly, I believe that coaching students in building their own mindful projects will help them feel capable, powerful and confident in the possibility of creating an exciting future.

Ceramic Handcraft workshop at La Chéraille

Edited by Ninon Godefroy