Courage to depart

Ambition requires courage, the courage to pursue a goal relentlessly, the drive to be successful. Departing from the original track also requires courage, the courage to face the unkonwn, to be adventurous.

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One of my best friends Siraya decided to depart from a decade of working for the DPP. She resigned out of stress, took several months bumming around, and when the new job offers started to come, she decided to leave it all and move to Spain. Prior to her departure, we consulted our various friends about her dilemma. Most men urged her to get a grip on reality and settle for work. As for our women friends, some suggested she should do what makes her happy, some got excited over the prospect that she might meet the romance of her life, and others were worried about how she would survive in a country whose language she doesn’t speak.

Ultimately she cashed in her insurance policy and her bank account, and enrolled herself in six-month language programs in Grenada, Salamanca and Barcelona. I thought that was an admirably courageous decision.

It was over a decade ago when I left graduate school in the US and the familiar surrounding of family and friends, to come back to Taiwan to pursue my ideals, at the time the idealistic and naive hopes of bringing down the KMT’s monopoly on power and achieving Taiwan independence. It didn’t take long for me to find myself engulfed in local Taiwan polics, a path that was truly exciting yet consuming.

I got involved in various campaigns, including the one that actually achieved my one dream of toppling the KMT and seeing a democratic transition in government. The excitement of bringing out dramatic change was indeed colorful, and I devoted all of my energy into this process.

In our society people measure “success” by status, wealth, degrees, or in the case of my line of work, by winning elections. So we work really hard to achieve “success” by taking the routine path of shaking hands, smiling, providing services, attending meetings and hearings, voting. Every few years our skills at running these routines are tested by another election.

Some people tell me they think I am very successful, that for my age I have achieved a degree of enviable success. Indeed, I have shaken thousans of hands and led rallies of hundreds of thousands of supporters. I’m high on the barometer of what many would consider successful in my work. However, the routine path on which we are tested election after election does not provide a standard for measuring happiness. All the hand-shaking and smiling brings about tremendous warmth from my people, but the momentum is not enough to push my mind to a higher level of wisdom and enlightenment.

In fact, the more “successful” I become, the more humility takes over. As I have more opportunities to interact with other highly “successful” people around the world, I realize my own limitations, and in all humbleness I strive to work harder and harder. Yet the course is set, and I am still bound by constraints of the set path, by the routines brought about by the tests of elections. So I go to Morocco for meetings and can’t touch the camels or smell the desert, I go to Hawaii for meetings and don’t have time to enjoy the waves splashing on my body, and we discuss global warming in conferences yet I have never seen the glaciers of the south pole.

Though the movie says you must open your fists and learn to let go in order to have the rest of the world, most of us have a problem with letting go. It is a fear of giving up, of departing from the familiar path regardless of how hard that path might be. Hesitations and attachments bound us to the original path, and departure may mean never returning to what is familiar. Departure may bring us to a world totally unknown.

That’s why I admire Siraya’s courage to depart. And perhaps one day soon I will also find myself departing from the familiar encirclement of local politics and elections, onto another track where dreams, color, and beauty in life are pursued differently.

2007/02/21, Bi-khim Hsiao