Dealing with criticism
From my own experience of having lived in Taiwan for more than 13 years, it seems to me that, for many Taiwanese, criticism is seen as a personal attack on the notion of face. No criticism, however constructive, is understood as a tool from which to analyze, or by which to grow, either personally or mentally.
The rigid rote-learning inculcated by an outdated education system can only produce linear-thinking individuals and it blinds adults, especially students, to the viewpoints, ideas or criticisms of “others.” This must be extremely frustrating for the Taiwanese, who otherwise generally seem like very kind and caring people — but only when judged from their perspective.
A small case in point: Several years ago, I went to a petting zoo in Calgary, Canada, and noticed a Taiwanese family of four. With my own child in tow, I bought three small boxes of animal feed, one for my son and the other two for the “waiguoren.”
A few moments later, I ran out of my own supply so I went back to the young boy and asked him if he could give me a small handful of the feed for my son. The boy’s mother saw this and was quick to admonish me, hysterical body language and all.
She yelled at me, saying: “Go buy your own.”
However, when I tried to explain that it was I who bought the feed — expecting an apology — she only grabbed her child by the arm and, in a huff, took him away. She had lost face and did not know how to deal with it. Waiting for her to say sorry, there were two hopes: Bob and none.
Criticism, and mine was merely a factual observation, turned her plain ugly. However, do not blame the Taiwanese, blame the Taiwanese education system and, as a partial remedy to such a conundrum, let’s hope the education system can revamp itself, perhaps by setting up debate clubs, for credit, in junior and senior high schools.
Anthony Kronman, a professor, said: “Education is, by definition, not intended to prepare students for a specific vocation. Rather, the critical thinking, civic and historical knowledge and ethical reasoning that the humanities develop have a different purpose: They are prerequisites for personal growth and participation in a free democracy, regardless of career choice.”
One need only see in Taiwan how criticism and democracy do not always go hand in hand.
Finally, where is the logical criticism in gastronomist Fei Chi’s (費奇) statement that Danny Holwerda did not “appreciate” the taste of pi dan? (“American blogger on CNN sparks ‘pi dan’ brouhaha,” July 1, page 4.) To be precise, let me use her own tools of criticism: Because I am a non-smoker, I should learn how to appreciate cigarettes or second-hand smoke, or the putrid stench wafting up from the bowels of some unnamed street in Taipei or Chiayi. If the problem — foul odors, strange tastes and eyesores — do not go away, you have to adapt to it. Internalize it and it will go away — just do not criticize it. If you do, you may go to jail for two months and get a NT$200,000 fine.
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