“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life,” Lin Yutang wrote in The Importance of Living (1937). Today’s world, however, seems hardly quiet. And discussions, it seems, leave little room for contemplation. What is happening instead is that lines are drawn and minds are made up. Where you come from, geographically or culturally – not what you actually do – increasingly seems to decide who you are and where you belong.
But culture, like education and medical knowledge, is the common heritage of all human beings. Instead of using it to sow more division, we should use it to build bridges to a more interesting and perhaps more peaceful world. One such approach that I have discovered is the Chinese ‘dian cha (点茶)’ tea ceremony: a unique technique that can be traced back all the way to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). This way, culture and history can blend together to create some much-needed peace of mind in these interesting times.
How culture can bring us together
Today’s interconnected world seems all but free of trouble. Geopolitical tensions, however, seem to be an increasing a source of polarization between people. Whether it’s Russia and Ukraine, Israel and the Palestinians, or China and Taiwan – it often seems to be about ‘us’ versus ‘them’. However, by allowing geopolitics to define how we relate to each other, we may lose sight of what we have in common. I think that geopolitical tensions are best left to suits and soldiers, where everyday citizens have little influence over. Let us not forget that people around the world have benefited greatly from the increases in trade, tourism, and mobility. Growing interdependence and cooperation have given a positive impetus for development, progress and mutual understanding. Cultural interaction allows people to cross borders, even if they cannot do so physically. This should not be halted because states choose to battle it out on the world stage. Instead, cultural interaction should be promoted and cherished, not despite but because of conflict and division.
Cultural exchange should therefore always be a shared concern and responsibility – for government and citizen alike. We have actual laws that aim to protect world heritage sites and historical objects. Why would this logic not apply to cultural traditions? People have to feel and be free to engage in it, to try to understand each other. This also means that people should not be considered guilty by association. Engaging in certain cultural activities – enjoying history, partaking in cuisine, learning a language – is not the same as supporting a political regime or its policies. Not everything has to be political.
Know the neighbour
I think that embracing cultural traditions other than your own can be a great antidote to conflict and division. People shouldn’t be attacked for listening to Russian classical music, nor should anyone feel guilty for wanting to learn Hebrew or Mandarin Chinese. Instead, we can connect with other cultures to learn about others and ourselves. This can enrich one’s sense of belonging, and give insight into other ideas and perspectives. “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated,” Confucius said. Maybe the simplest thing that we can do today is to meet our neighbour and have some tea.
Therefore, everyone is welcome to join my tea workshop on 13 November (register before 8 Nov. with firstname.lastname@example.org; Fee: 35 euro, including the tea ceremony, three types of tea and a piece of cake) and enjoy some peace in your cup of tea.