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Ovi Symposium; Eighty-First Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2017-06-16 10:05:39
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

Between Professors Emanuel Paparella, Ernesto Paolozzi, Michael Newman and Azly Rahman
Eighty-first Meeting: 15 June 2017



Symposium's regular participants

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.


enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

newmanProf. Michael Newman received his Master’s of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Eastern Michigan University.  He discovered his love for teaching English as a Second Language while living abroad. He moved to South Florida and began his journey for a tenure track position at Broward College where he has recently earned a tenured position teaching English for Academic Purposes.  Another great passion of his is that of philosophical writing and discussion.  

azlyDr. Azly Rahman holds a doctorate in International Education Development from Columbia University, and multiple Masters Degrees in the fields of International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, and Education. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. He has edited and authored seven books. He resides in the US where he teaches courses in Education, Philosophy, Cultural and American Studies, and Political Science. His interest in research and writing lies in the cultural interplay between Cybernetics, Hegemony, and Existentialism.


Subtheme of session 81: Musings on Language, Religion and the Family as the Universal Roots of Human Cultures.

Indirect Participants within the Great Imaginary Conversation across the ages: Vico, Dostoevsky, Bakhin, Suyuan, Scollon, Tan, Tiny-Tooney, Hall, Raider, Coleman, Fisher, Ury, Patton, Confucius, Lewicki, Sanders, Minton.


Coordinator’s Preamble to the 81st (June 2017) Meeting


Giambattista Vico’s philosophy of history teaches us that one will understand precious little of human culture unless one explores its origins which are rooted in three institutions: language, family, and religion. This was at the time a novel insight into the philosophy of history which has yielded many fruits in the field of history and sociology, literature, the arts, and national cultures in general.

We have previously dealt rather extensively with the human phenomenon of language and its symbolism. In this June issue we will briefly pause to examine the nexus between culture, the family and religion.

In the first essay by Emanuel Paparella, one particular novel by Dostoevsky (The Possessed) is explored and analyzed in the context of a puzzling cultural phenomenon: Russian nationalism and exceptionalism, as crudely portrayed nowadays by the likes of Putin. However, one cannot possibly understand the concept of Russian nationalism from Putin’s political propaganda and his disinformation apparatus, smelling of Soviet Russian anti-democratic revanchism. But one may hope to get a better inkling from Dostoevsky’s novels which invariably deal with the third phenomenon mentioned by Vico, religion. To be sure Putin also places religion on the stage of history but his is an instrumental use of religion for political purposes, having precious little to do with the existential anxiety of man’s destiny.

In the second essay by Azyl Rahman a movie by Oliver Stone titled Joy Luck Club (originally a novel by Amy Tan) is brilliantly analyzed by Azly Rahman within the context of generations of Chinese immigrants and American culture. In this analysis we encounter the second phenomenon mentioned by Vico within the context of ancestral customs and traditions clashing with the customs and traditions of the host country.

In the third essay Michael Newman presents an existential rendition of what it means to belong and have one’s being within a family. Not unlike Vico, he explores the very concept of family within personal and universal history and how it is nothing short than the sustenance of a multicultural society that hopes to live in peace and in a human mode. To live in a human mode always presupposes language, family and religion.

There is little doubt that these three essays offer the Ovi readership plenty of food for reflection and thought. Buon appetito. 


Table of Contents for the 81st Session of the Ovi Symposium

First Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella: “Russian Exceptionalism, Religion and Nationalism, as Rooted in Dostoevsky’s Novels.”

Second Presentation by Azly Rahman: “Nation, narration, and personal memory framed transculturally: An Analysis of Oliver Stone’s Joy Luck Club.”

Third Presentation by Michael Newman: “Marriage and Family: the Basis for Thriving in a Multicultural World.”


Russian Exceptionalism, Religion and Nationalism
as Rooted in Dostoevsky’s Novels
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella


I’d like to begin this reflection on the nexus between religion and nationalism in a rather prosaic mode, so to speak, with the empirical facts, as announced by Pew researchers on the subject: roughly a quarter of a century after the fall of the Soviet Union, religion has been resurrected in Russia, as well as 17 other countries formerly under its fist.

Overall, 86 percent of 25,000 respondents interviewed between June 2015 and July 2016 said they believe in God; 59 percent believe in a heaven and 54 percent believe in hell. Just 14 percent fall within the atheists or agnostics category.

In many countries formerly under Soviet rule, religion and national identity are inextricably tied. In Russia, the Orthodox Church is heavily favored, while Polish believers are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.

Overall, 70 percent of poll respondents in those countries where Orthodoxy is predominant said their national identity was tied to their faith; for Roman Catholics, the percentage was 57.

However, identification with faith does not necessarily translate to strong church attendance. Few respondents to this poll regularly attend worship services; 25 percent of Roman Catholics said they attend weekly Mass, while only 10 percent of Orthodox adherents attend worship at least once a week.

Those statistics strongly imply that three-quarters of a century of official state atheism in the former Soviet Union and its Central and Eastern European satellite nations (from 1917 till 1989) has all but evaporated in a sudden resurgence of faith since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

From 1917, when Vladimir Lenin's Bolsheviks took power in Russia, until 1991, when the USSR crumbled, religious faith — though technically constitutionally protected — was treated with ambivalence and often persecuted as incompatible with Marxist ideology.

In various ways, the state oppressed religion, Christian and non-Christian alike. Believers often found themselves dismissed from their jobs, clergy imprisoned and sometimes executed or doomed to gulags for perceived disloyalty. This persecution encouraged the emergence of new officially atheistic generations which replaced the believers of old.

This may at first look like a positive development, at least for freedom of religion. But on further analysis one discovers that there is a problem in this rosy social scenario: the entanglement between nationalism as expressed by the State with the official state religion seems to have become all but inextricable. What the US founding fathers dubbed “the separation of Church and State” is also evaporating fast.

Perhaps ironically, Orthodox Christians today see Russia as playing a role in protecting — rather than persecuting — their faith. And most former East bloc, predominantly Orthodox nations agree that "a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West." So, it appears that religion (Russian Orthodoxy, in particular) has become a political tool in the hands of Putin’s strategy of “divide and conquer,” another tool, like cyber-war and disinformation, by which to oppose the West alleged to be greedy and corrupt, devoid of moral underpinnings.

In Russia, the same above mentioned poll shows, 85 percent support the idea of their nation being a buffer against the immorality of the West, with that opinion echoed to varying degrees elsewhere in former Iron Curtain countries — from 52 percent in Romania and Georgia to 80 percent and 83 percent in Armenia and Serbia, respectively. The sole exception, as might be expected given current strained relations with Russia, is Ukraine with just 22 percent support for the concept of Orthodoxy as a defense against a corrupt West.

But, staying within the parameters of religion/nationalism, another conundrum surfaces: the resurgence of Russian Orthodoxy, has also brought on the stage increasing resistance to faiths imported from the West. Russian President Vladimir Putin — under the official impetus of cracking down on terrorism — has approved tight restrictions on missionary activity and evangelism by other non-Orthodox faiths. In other words, he does not consider Christianity a universal religion practiced by different denominations and different cultures. In that respect he is violating (like Trump in America) the constitutional violation of equal treatment of all religions.

Hit particularly hard are Pentecostals and evangelical Christians, as well as Latter-day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses, believers who consider themselves Christians and who often have been forced to conduct low-key meetings in homes. Mormon missionaries are now called "volunteers" in order to better downplay their proselytizing motives. Persecution is the air. It is a selective kind of Christianity that is propagandized by the State.

What is conveniently forgotten by this pseudo-religious posture, which amounts to a stealthy cover-up, is that the essential political struggle between Russia and the Atlantic Alliance in the West may have little to do with the struggle between atheism and religion, or between morality and corruption, or secularism against the sacred, but rather between democracy and tyranny.

I’ve already written extensively on this topic of the democratic deficit which may eventually doom both political blocks, with or without religion. What I’d like to do here is to explore the roots of the kernel of truth that exists in the concept that Russia is a substantially different from the corrupt West; that is not invented by Putin’s propaganda machine. Indeed, iIf those roots exist, one will not uncover them by merely listening and following Putin’s nationalistic rhetoric, but by reading the novels of Dostoyevsky, particularly two from which I will quote extensively in this article: The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamozov.

As an intriguing aside, one wonders how many people noticed that while the London Olympics opened up with an image of a train coming down the rail, spewing pollution into the atmosphere to glorify the industrial revolution and the British Empire of old nostalgically resurrected, while Shakespeare was not even mentioned, the Moscow Olympics did not neglect to prominently mention and display Dostoevsky’s picture, as well as that of Tolstoy, as glories of Russia.

Be that as it may, let us begin with a rather extensive quote from The Possessed. When I first read the novel in college in the 60s it was translated as The Devils. We shall see further down why that translation also makes eminent sense. The quote is the following:

Science and reason have, from the beginning of time, played a secondary and subordinate part in the life of nations; so it will be till the end of time.[underlining mine]. Nations are built up and moved by another force which sways and dominates them, the origin of which is unknown and inexplicable: that force is the force of an insatiable desire to go on to the end, though at the same time it denies that end. It is the force of the persistent assertion of one’s own existence, and a denial of death. It’s the spirit of life, as the Scriptures call it, “the river of living water,” the drying up of which is threatened in the Apocalypse. It’s the aesthetic principle, as the philosophers call it, the ethical principle with which they identify it, “the seeking of God,” as I call it more simply. The object of every national movement, in every people and at every period of its existence is only the seeking for its god, who must be its own god, and the faith in Him as the only true god. God is the synthetic personality of the whole people, taken from its beginning to its end….

You reduce God to a simple attribute of nationality…

I reduce God to the attribute of nationality? cried Shatov. On the contrary, I raise the people to God. And has it ever been otherwise? The people is the body of God. Every people is only a people so long as it has its own god and excludes all other gods on earth irreconcilably…. Such from the beginning of time has been the belief of all great nations, all, anyway, who have been specially remarkable, all who have been leaders of humanity…. The Jews lived only to await the coming of the true God and left the world the true God. The Greeks deified nature and bequeathed the idea of the State to the nations… If a great people does not believe that the truth is only to be found in itself alone (in itself alone and exclusively); if it does not believe that it alone is fit and destined to raise up and save all the rest by its truth, it would at once sink into being ethnographical material, and not a great people…. But there is only one truth, and therefore only a single out of the nations can have the true God, even though other nations may have great gods of their own. Only one nation is “god-bearing,” that’s the Russian people, and… and…. and can you think me such a fool, Stavrogin,’ he yelled frantically all at once, that I can’t distinguish whether my words at this moment are the rotten old commonplaces that have been ground out in all the Slavophil mills in Moscow, or a perfectly new saying, the last word, the sole word of renewal and resurrection!

Is Dostoevsky saying, via the conversation between Shatov and Stavrogin that for man to be saved and fulfill his final destiny he needs to believe in a Russian God? This line of thinking may appear preposterous to the “enlightened” secular intelligence of Western Europe, but notice please that, from the outset, science and reason are declared a secondary and subordinate part of the life of nations. In other words, the rational preoccupations of the age of Enlightenment are not the focus here; they are subordinate to a more encompassing idea; the idea of the search for the ultimate destiny of man.

As Rebecca West has aptly expressed, this is “the inquiry that looks over the shoulder of the man of science at every experiment; it is the preoccupation that sits like a judge in every artist’s brain. The discoveries of science and philosophy have opened such magic casements out of the world of appearances that they have attracted men of imagination, whose impulse it is to find out the beauty and significance of material, as strongly as they have repelled those who have staked their existence on the finality of the Christian revelation. And thus it is that the history of the research for redemption is written not in the liturgies but in literature.” Which is to say, the task may be less theological, of linking with a Greek Orthodox Church (from which derives the Russian Orthodox Church) and more philosophical and literary. And yet, Dostoevsky has that Church in mind, a church that had indeed preserved the kindness of the early church but can also be a calculating institution as many religious institutions indeed are. Just take a good look at the photograph below the title of this article.

As the title of the book The Possessed more than adequately suggests, the near-obsession with the theme of the meaning and final destiny of man’s life, was stimulated by some of the events going on at the time at the hands of the so called Nihilists. Who were the Nihilists in 19th century Russia? They were the likes of Stravogin and Shatov in the Possessed. They do not believe in the God who lives within the shining frames of the Greek icons, or the Orthodox liturgy intoned in a dialect spoken a thousand years ago in a remote corner of Macedonia. There is a strange faith, a difficult faith. At one point of the narration this exchange occurs: “I want to ask you,” asked Stavrogin coldly, “do you believe in God, yourself?” “I believe in Russia,” muttered Shatov frantically, “I believe in her orthodoxy…. I believe in the body of Christ…. I believe that the new advent will take place in Russia…. I believe…” “And in God?” pressed Stavrogin, “in God?” “I… I will believe in God….”

One is tempted to ask: has Dostoevsky too joined in spirit those disordered minds of the time called Nihilists or “disordered saints of the mind”? Those who reasserted with Schopenhauer, that there is a will-to-live which universally guides humanity with a blind sort of genius, and then with Nietzsche doctrine of egotism preached that not only men but entire collectives, entire nations could be strong, super-nations, so to speak, sinless like the angels. Those types called the possessed had become intimately involved in the eternal struggle between the proud and the humble, the original genius and the academic protocol that loves tradition, the militarist nations organized for war and obedience and the pacifist nations which leave themselves open to chaos for the sake of freedom.

Another tempting question: had Dostoevsky allied himself with the proud? The question is prompted by his book The Brothers Karamazov which relates how Christ came to Seville and is condemned to death by the Grand Inquisitor lest he should restore free will to humankind. That would explain his hatred of everything Catholic, a church which preached salvation by the subjection of the will to ecclesiastical authority, what he calls, not unlike Nietzsche, a communion of cowards rather than a communion of saints.

Again, to quote Rebecca West once again: “Dostoevsky hated the materialism of his age, which declared, in the phrase that jangles like a cracked bell through The Possessed, that “the rattle of the carts bringing bread to humanity is more important than the Sistine Madonna,” because it understated the magnificent greeds and appetites of the human animal. He loved Christianity because the willingness for sacrifice is brave, and in the words, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit,” rings such a call to adventure as no other religion has dared to take upon its lips. It behooved a man to be so proud of life that he would honor its young strength in little children; that he would welcome any deed that would make it sweeter, even if it were performed by the clumsy hands of an old man; that he would rejoice at every word that made its meaning clearer, even though it were hiccupped by a drunken convict. It behooved a man to remember that he was part of a nation crowned with the destiny of saving mankind, and to bear himself proudly and busily as one of its ambassadors. So he might be saved.”

And so we arrive at Dostoevsky’s nationalism, which some have misunderstood and confused with that of Putin and his ilk. It has nothing to do with the repression of intelligence and liberty, with the aggressive nationalism of a modern Italy or Germany, or aggressiveness and arrogance in international affairs, or the Machiavellian principles that “might makes right” or “the end justifies the means.”

Then what exactly is Dostoevsky’s brand of nationalism? It might be nothing more than the ancient Greek’s advice to create a society that aims at common good and creates an environment that is suited to the cultivation of the soul and the pursuit of perfection. If mother Russia wanted to be an example to the rest of the world it had to create those conditions.

Dostoevsky seems to imply in The Possessed that tradition is the enemy of science, or vice versa; but all he might be saying is that if one deprives an individual of his heritage and tradition the end result will be the deprivation of the total of human relationships wherein he may learn love, which strengthens the will to live. He will be in effect be robbed of that network which is necessary to remain human and above the restrictions of mere ethnicity or worse, tribal loyalty or exclusion of the other.

The problem is that in The Possessed and in The Brothers Karamazov too, this nationalism seems to come across as an angry kind of nationalism, one that suggests xenophobia and seems to support the nefarious attacks of the state bureaucracy against its own people. Perhaps Dostoevsky was too obsessed with his hunger for salvation and could not reflect more serenely on this crucial issue. As Rebecca West renders it “it’s like standing in the darkness outside a lighted house to which one has no key. If Dostoevsky sometimes lost himself in rage as he beat on the doors, it was because he had in his heart such a wonderful dream of the light.” Be that as it may, the path to the fulfillment of that dream will not be found in the advice of those who are pursuing another nefarious Machiavellian path and covering it up with the appearance of piety. Those people are like wolves in sheep’s clothing. Their core belief is “knowledge is power.” That slogan, come to think of it, was proffered by one of the fathers of the Western Enlightenment: Francis Bacon. Perhaps it needs a revisiting together with much which is simply assumed by the Enlightenment.



Nation, narration, and personal memory framed transculturally:
An Analysis of Oliver Stone’s Joy Luck Club

A Presentation by Azly Rahman


Joy Luck Club is a movie about the plight of three generations of Chinese women. Interwoven with vignettes of flashbacks, this movie is a good visual text for conflict resolution analysis. It is an adaptation of Amy Tan’s novel by the same name, telling a story of the immigrant experience in America. It is a story of the complexities of adapting to a sophisticated world of American cultural contradictions and living with the memory of China one left behind in search of “greener pastures.” In Joy Luck Club contains the rich exposition and carnivalesque (borrowing the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin’s description of cultural complexities) – of metaphors and proverbs and ancient Chinese wisdom vis-a-vis outlook of life as it relates to family, filial piety, and the idea of communitarianism rooted in language. But above all, this essay will focus on the question of the mediation of cultural breakdown and how the discourse of change is exemplified through intergenerational conflicts within the family now living in a new home and society called America.

A Story of Cultural Adaptation

As it began, story was related to June from her already deceased mother and then retold by her: The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum. ‘This bird,’ boasted the market vendor, ‘was once a duck that stretched its neck in hopes of becoming a goose and now look it is too beautiful to eat.’ Then, the woman and the swan sailed across an ocean many thousands of li wide stretching their necks towards America. On her journey, she cooed to the swan ‘in America, I will have a daughter just like me. But over there, nobody will say her worth is measured by the loudness of her husband’s belch. Over there, nobody would look down on her because I will make her speak only perfect American English.’

‘And over there she will always be too full to swallow any sorrow. She will know my meaning because I will give her this swan, a creature that became more than what was hoped for.’ But when she arrived in the new country, the immigration officials pulled the swan away from her leaving the woman fluttering her arms and with only one swan feather for memory. For a long time now, the woman had wanted to give her daughter the single swan feather and tell her, ‘this feather may look worthless but it comes from afar and it carries with it all my good intentions’ (Stone, 1993).

The opening narration has some characteristics of a typical classical Chinese literature. The similarity in style of discourse perhaps can be explained as, “a culture’s thought patterns affect the way individuals in that culture communicate” (Porter & Samovar, 1992, p.17). Literature is indeed one source of analyzing a culture’s thought patterns. In this movie, it can be argued that this personalized “epic” is one indirect way for Suyuan to tell June the story of her hopes and aspirations for her. Although the story, at the opening of the movie, is told in an unsophisticated way, the image used to complement the narration – of the expanding whiteness of the feathers, which almost resembled clouds, merging together – serves as a symbolic completion of a bird’s migration. By the time the woman had been confiscated of the swan she embodied the characteristics of the swan herself: she was left “fluttering her arms and with only one swan feather for memory” (Stone, 1993). So, the image of the swan feather is quite a powerful and an elegant one and at the same time, the unpolished poetic story line makes it all the more realistic since it is a story told not by a poet but by a novice who told it in the tradition of a Chinese classical literature.

The issue of cultural breakdown

The issues portrayed in the movie such as intergenerational communication breakdowns are quite universal and applicable to the analysis of conflicts. Scollon and Scollon (1997) in Intercultural Communications write about how a person is simultaneously a member of many discourse systems. They cite that involuntary discourse systems in which all of us participate are those of generation and gender. These involuntary discourse systems have a potential of creating communication problems because such discourse systems are normally invisible to us unlike those we make in voluntary discourses (professional and organizational discourse systems.) Ting-Toomey (publication date unavailable) writes about individualism-collectivism value tendencies. And Hall (1975) writes about low-and high-context culture communication framework.

Individualism refers to the tendencies of a culture to focus on the importance of for example, individual identity over group identity. In contrast, collectivism refers to the tendencies of a culture to emphasize the importance of for example, group obligations versus individual rights. Individualism is closely linked to Hall’s low-context culture communication framework while collectivism is closely linked to his high-context culture communication framework. Low-context communication refers to communication patterns that are linear and direct. High-context communication refers to communication patterns that are spiral and indirect.

In this movie, the generational communication breakdown is escalated since there is also the problem of “cultural” differences between the Chinese-born (governed by high-context culture communication framework with a collectivistic culture value tendencies) mothers and their American-born (governed by low-context culture communication framework with an individualistic culture value tendencies) daughters. So, we can observe cross-cultural problems even among members of the same family. This point was also emphasized by Hofstede in his explanation of the dimensions cultural communication (Raider and Coleman, 1987)

The four mothers have had painful pasts; some of these are dark secrets, which they struggled to come to terms with. Suyuan, June’s deceased mother went through life feeling guilty for abandoning her twin daughters on the roadside in China during World War II. Lindo, Weaverly’s mother was “given up” by her mother to be married at a tender age of 15 to a young boy. Yin Yin, Lena’s mother, married a westernized “Chinese Romeo” and ended up killing her son to retaliate against her husband’s cruelty towards her. Ah Mei, Rose’s mother, “lost” her mother (Rose’s grandmother) to a rich man when she became his fourth concubine. Another aspect of the movie, which is worth noting, is the Chinese belief in ancestral worship and filial piety. Their worldview is one which advocates that the spirit from their ancestors will be transported from one generation to another. This is why, for example, Ah Mei’s mother chose the date of committing suicide with an opium overdose to give Ah Mei some spirit. Unfortunately, just like her grandmother before her death, Rose, (Ah Mei’s daughter) became submissive after her marriage.

Ah Mei, determined to correct this problem in her daughter recounted the story of her mother’s sacrifice and insisted that she reasserts herself before it’s too late. Sure enough, upon hearing the story Rose rejuvenated her dwindling spirits. She said to her husband, “you don’t know who I am. I died 60 years ago. I ate opium.” This example also highlights a high-context culture communication pattern which the otherwise Americanized Rose adopted when confronting her husband. Lena’s spirit is also described as being linked to her elders. She has been described as having “no spirit,” because her mother had none to give her. Her mother, Yin Yin had lost her spirit ever since she became haunted by the bad deed of killing her baby. But when Yin Yin realizes that her daughter was living in a house that would literally and figuratively “break into pieces” – from the design that does not have its Feng Shui (laws of adaptability to nature) for the former, and the incompatible relationship, for the latter, she decided to rejuvenate her spirits to give it to her daughter. That resulted in Lena leaving her husband and eventually finding a more compatible mate. Waverly also comments that when she was young and rebellious, she could feel that the “power” she once had in playing chess was as if being drained away when she upset her mother. In another scene, when she is already a grown woman, in tears Weaverly tells her mother how she had always had such “power” over her.

So even though the four mothers are now Christians they still hold on strongly to some Chinese belief. And to a certain extent, this belief system is appropriated into the next generation. Perhaps this Chinese belief that their ancestors’ spirits is omnipresent and transcends the generation explains why when June sets her eyes on her half-sisters in China, one of them at first glance, embodied the image of their mother. As the daughters and mothers came to terms with their unresolved past or present they all came out triumphant and began to understand each other more, in the conflict resolution tradition of "opening" and "uniting" (Raider and Coleman ,1987., see also Fisher, Ury, and Patton, 1991., for discussions of similar perspective). For instance, June had said that there were many things she didn’t understand about her mother but the one she never forgave was when her mother abandoned the twins in China.

Conclusion and resolution  

As the story unfolds, she finally came to an understanding of the rationale behind her mother’s actions and managed to resolve the puzzlement she has had all this while. She finally felt she had done something for her mother when she went to China. So, life goes on for the four daughters living in America with somewhat watered-down Confucian values while the older generation hangs on to whatever they have left of China like the weekly playing of mahjong --- in the manner negotiations in life’s most critical instances are made (see for example Lewicki, Sanders, and Minton, 1994). And perhaps life, like mahjong playing, is a gamble; you have a 50% chance to either win or lose. When retelling the swan story to Rose’s daughter, June further adapted the story: “… the swan, swallowing more Coca-Cola than sorrow…” – a poignant adaptation because Coca-Cola to many people is symbolic of the American ways.


Hall, E.T. (1975). Beyond culture. New York: Doubleday.
Porter, R.E., & Samovar, L.A. (1992). Basic principles of intercultural communication.
Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. W. (1997). Intercultural communication. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc.
Stone, O. (1993). The joy luck club. California: Hollywood Picture Home video.
Ting-Toomey, S. Managing intercultural conflict effectively. In Communicating interculturally: Becoming competent
Fisher, R.E., Ury, W. and Patton B. (1991). Getting to yes 2d. ed. New York: Penguin Books
Lewicki, R., Saunders, D., and Minton, J. W. (1994). Negotiation, 2d.ed. New York: Penguin Books
Raider, E. and Coleman, S. (1987). Collaborative negotiation. Unpublished workshop materials. Teachers College, Columbia University



Marriage and Family: the Basis for Thriving in a Multicultural World

A Presentation by Michael Newman


The Others:  those who are not Us.  Throughout all of human history, we have needed a way to define that which must be protected, and that which does not, and from this basic principle springs marriages, families, nations and cultures.  It starts with oneself, but quickly grows to include a partner, and the children of that union. The children are to protect each other and the family, and this forms the nucleus of a people throughout history. 

The families grow with all the subsequent requirements to maintain them, such as food, shelter, and clothing.  When there are enough family members in one location, defenses, shared resources and specialization are established to support each other, and thus, the first cities were formed.  Languages and geography are added into the mix; cities and families form alliances (often through marriage) or are conquered, and nations were born.  A common tongue, a history and a common future bind peoples together well, so myths and religion are cultivated and handed down.  And thus, culture was born.

For some context, I grew up with a literal view of the Bible, and one document that we had in my house growing up was a printed, laminated timeline of world history, according to the Bible.  It stretched about 18 feet in length and about two and half tall.  According to a literal reading of the Bible in this timeline, nations could be seen coming from a son and his family.  So for example, the Egyptians were the descendants of one of the sons of Ham, namely Mizraim (in the King James Version) which in Hebrew is (Genesis 10:6).  However, later, in Genesis 12:12, when Abram enters Egypt, he says, “…when the Egyptians see you…”   A study of the Bible shows this is the pattern, time and again, for the naming of nations.  Interestingly enough, the English Standard Version of the Bible translates Genesis 10:6 a little bit differently; Ham’s son is named Egypt in that translation.   

From cities to nations, something stronger than just family must be present to keep peoples together.  Culture, which loosely speaking is the geography, language, religion and customs, is what keeps a people together.  These strong bonds work well, and each nation is happy in its place.  That is, until more is desired and so one nation decides to go conquering others.  Naturally, each nation wants to believe that their god is the best one, and is blessing them to prosper in advancing their goals and ambitions over the whole world.  We can see throughout history that conquering nations required the conquered people to convert to their religion and learn their language, often upon penalty of death. 

The Greeks practiced this when they conquered the Jews, for example.  If this is not the idea of that nation, it cannot conquer effectively.  Nations that conquered but permitted differing religions and languages could not maintain their rule.  The Roman empire fell. So where are we today?  Today, the cultures are clashing, and a problem many people have, especially in the U.S., is that who we are is not clear anymore.  The distinction between Us and the Others has been blurred by so many years of intermarriage, that today people sometimes do DNA testing to determine their own ancestry, and are surprised by the results!  Buzz Feed offers some videos of how this emerges.  These people often discover there is more to themselves than they realized, and can even start to change how they think about themselves and about others.

Which leads us to the question well posed by Dr. Paparella in his presentation.  Do we hold to a radical nationalism?  Or to a radical religion?  Many people find deep meaning in religion and nationalism.  However, extremism in anything is dangerous.  In fact, we see zealots in the news all the time, but they are condemned far more than praised.  If that is not the answer, how do we find our meaning, our place in this world?  Compounding this is that as we here in the U.S. (and Europe) have embraced multiculturalism, not putting one culture above another, the Us vs. the Others distinction has been lost. 

If we are no longer the best (for every culture is equally valid), then our nation may not be the best, nor worth striving for.  A popular video on Facebook and YouTube (search for a clip from The Newsroom titled "Why America is NOT the greatest country in the world, anymore”) with more than 5 million views would seem to suggest that this is indeed a real question for us.  How do we then live?  In fact, one of the challenges of our age is that the world has grown smaller, and no longer are we limited to a local stage.

Finding our place in this world is not a metaphor anymore.  Indeed, Apple, in the opening video introduction of their World Wide Developers Conference of 2017 ended with “Keep making apps.  The world is depending on you.”  People living now, for the first time, have the challenge of living a life of meaning to the whole world.  That’s a tall order!

How do you work in the whole world, respecting the cultures and beliefs of Others, and maintaining your own identity (Us) through all of it?  One of the beliefs of our age is that multiculturalism is good.  Can a multicultural culture truly exist and thrive?  I believe it can, if we start at the beginning.  We must create our own Us first.  We create this by giving life to our own story, and building up our own family’s story.  We must do so consciously, or it won’t exist.

The keystone, I believe, is a realistic commitment to your partner and family. The commitment between partners is what is foundational to making a marriage work.  That commitment must be preserved and maintained with vigilance.  But there’s a caveat.  As ideal as it sounds for this commitment to be unconditional, in reality, that is practically impossible.  Consider the atrocities that people have been known to do to each other, and it is even worse when they are perpetrated by family members against their own family.  We see this in cases of abuse.  This is a betrayal so deep, that when we see it, it shakes us to our core.  We know how deep that commitment must be for it to function.  And we intuitively know, when it falls, the whole construct fails.  Therefore, we must ever be vigilant not to abuse the people to whom we are committed.  This call is to all spouses, children and parents.

You, your partner, and your family must be created with commitment, vision and vigilance.  This creates the us necessary to thrive in this world.  To further your sense of belonging to Us, you should include aspects of your heritage that make you who you are.  In my own life, coming from so many cultures, I have had the blessing of being able to pick and choose what features I want from the different cultures in my heritage.  With those conscious choices, I can then celebrate and enjoy those aspects with others who share them with us.  And in that moment, we become the Us.  We can celebrate the multicultural heritage we are and have chosen.  When that moment is finished, you return to your family and celebrate your own unique story that you have built.  In celebrating your victories, sharing your failures, and committing to continual learning, you will build a strong family.  From there, you can move forward into the world, brave the challenges which you will meet, conquer and change the world for the better.




Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

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