We Know

“Pendant costs billions in lost revenue” · “Pendant changes course of US Presidential Election” · “Pendant precipitates international crisis.”

Thankfully, all fictional headlines; worryingly, not far from the truth.  These kind of pendants of Chairman Mao adorn the rear-view mirrors of every other taxi in China.  It’s often one of the first things Western business people, politicians and tourists notice as they hop out of the airport and into a cab.

The problem is that we all know what Chairman Mao represents: a tyrannical dictator who is responsible for 40 million deaths of his own people.  Everyone knows that, right?  So for a taxi driver to hang a pendant of Mao from his mirror like a patron saint, they must either be enslaved (forced to have it); brainwashed; or psychopathic. Whichever it is, our host is definitely beneath us (though we’d never SAY that, of course) and as a result we either dismiss them, try to enlighten them or actively put up barriers to protect ourselves from them.  And when enough of us do that, we get the headlines above.

The trouble is, of course, that we only know what Mao represents to us; we don’t know what Mao represents to our taxi-driver.  To them, he is a symbol of freedom, of hope, of pride, of indomitability – and of good-neighbourliness: the slogan reads “Serve the people.”  The pendant shows what the driver cares about – and that is where business, politics and friendships begin.

The challenge for us is not to project OUR associations onto others, whoever they are, but rather to try to understand what THEIR associations are so we can try to find some common ground.