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Dear Little Tsolmo

Dear little Tsolmo,

I can feel you in your Mom’s belly. Soon you’ll be out to explore this world and find your place in it. What a pure and clean mind you will start with! And then come all these patterns, habits, formations, constructions and rules that shape and confine your mind. “To make you fit into this world!”, they will say. “To make you a full member of our society!”, they will say. But after years of education, indoctrination, socialisation and adaptation, you will find the first cracks in the picture. You will ask the questions that everyone who is not completely dull or dumb asks: Who am I? What is this world? What is this all about? If everything goes well, someday you will be able to come back to this clear mind. I am sorry to tell you this, but there is no other way! You can’t just keep that peaceful clear baby mind. As a new knot in a huge web of interconnected entities you will first be tightened and fixed to ensure the stability of the web. Later you will need to find your fine-tuned balanced position, then it is time for relaxation and harmonizing. Until then, others will tell you where your place is in this environment. To provide you with the abilities, methodologies and tools to find the best position by yourself, or as some might say, to go your own way, this is the most important task I see for myself as your father.

Someday, when you know me better, you will find out that I am a theoretical thinker in the first place, and you might understand what that implies. First, I go through possible options in my mind. Like in a chess game, I think through possible ways and what they mean for different futures. Then I choose the future that I believe suits me (and those I care about) best and try to do what is necessary to get to that future. Some practical people (like your Mom, for example) don’t understand that. They think it is a burden for me that I “think” all the time. But it is not! I feel peaceful and secure with that strategy since my experiences showed me that it often (not always) keeps me from making wrong choices and saves me from a lot of regrets and tears. Your Mom and me are such a good match because we add up our different life approaches to something greater: a visionary “here-and-now” lifestyle that identifies “the way to go” by our ideals, virtues and values, and then figures out how to do it.

You impact our life massively! And it will be awesome! To see you grow and develop, to learn from you and your ideas, and to enjoy how you enrich our life! You know, there is an important saying: “All the things you teach a child it can never learn!”. Or as the psychologists say: Whenever possible, enable a process of “explorative learning”, but don’t educate your child too much. I know myself well enough to identify a danger of “teaching” you too much. And, as a hopeless theorist, I am worried I will overwhelm you with principles, theories, philosophies, science and other “reasons” for “good life conduct”. In the first months of your life, it won’t even matter, because you won’t understand what I am saying. When you are 1, 2, 3 years old you might just be frightened, because in a world full of miracles and wonder all these “words” are just empty shells of some nonsense. Then comes a long time in which you will have other priorities: playing, elaborating skills (personally, I hope, I can motivate you to play music…), making friends, exploring your creativity, and of course standing your ground as a fully respected and appreciated person. But – if everything goes well – sooner or later you might ask those metaphysical questions that I mentioned above. Will you need and want advise? Will I be someone you would consider helpful for finding answers? Your old Daddy? I hope so, but I can’t be sure. However, just in case you like to hear what’s in my mind, I want to be prepared for telling you what I know.

What is knowledge? It is certainly not a block of data with visible confinements of which we could say “This is what we know!”. Knowledge is dynamic, a constant flow of information into and out of our awareness, a tiny part of it stored in our neuronal networks, most of it coming from our environment. Somehow “language” has to do with it, but I am still trying to figure out how. I will let you know my progress on that later. The point is: If in 15-20 years we come to talk to each other about some “life issues” I might only recall what goes around my mind at that time, or a few years before that. What I think now might be long forgotten or disproved or discarded. Now, before you are born, I have many plans, visions, ideas, expectations (on myself) and hopes. But maybe I forget all those over the years and turn out to be just like my own father. I believe it is important to let you know that nothing is static, nothing is fixed, but everything is dynamic and constantly changing. Ideas evolve and develop, improve, sophisticate. The answers I can give you in the year 2030 or beyond might sound “ultimate”, “strict”, “unshakable”. But I want to give you a chance to participate in my “stream of thoughts”, in my evolution of mind from now, shortly before your birth, until the time you are interested in it. And if you don’t want to read it, well, then I just read it again and will be astonished by how my thoughts, interests, insights and viewpoints change or remain constant. I write it for you, but also for myself. If everything goes well, I write it for us. Then it doesn’t make a difference anymore…

The place where you will be born is an Island known as Taiwan. You will be surrounded mainly by Chinese language and Taiwanese, a dialect of Chinese that can almost be regarded as another language. However, you will hear me talking German to you and English to everybody else, including your Mom. I hope that doesn’t puzzle you, but seeing other children growing up in multilingual environments gives me a high confidence that you will also take it as a chance to call more than one language your “mother tongue”. Language differences is just one aspect of the “clash of cultures” that you will experience as a member of a Taiwanese-German family. Sometimes, maybe, you will even feel it as a tension. Taiwanese and German societies are, in several ways, very different. Let me give you an example that plays a role right now: Taiwanese believe in ghosts and spirits and, connected to that, fortune. They pray and perform many rituals like burning paper (they call it “ghost money”) and incenses or placing food in front of shrines with wooden or stone statues. They follow strict rules and guidelines extracted from the moon calendar that is based on ancient Chinese philosophy (especially Daoism and its 33 universes worldview, I-Ging, Yin and Yang). There are good and bad days for a haircut, for planting cabbage, for getting married and – don’t be surprised! – for giving birth to a baby. There are twelve animals taking turn in representing a year. You are born in a “monkey year”, but very close to the New Year festival. If you were born last week you would be a “goat” or a “sheep” (apparently the same for Chinese people). It happened that your traditional Taiwanese grandparents seriously discussed the option of a C-section a few days earlier than the estimated birthday in order to make you a “goat” because your family name Chen matches better with a goat than with a monkey. Isn’t that stupid? People really believe in a connection between birthday and time and the personality, character and future of a newborn baby! Let me tell you in which way I think this idea is not only nonsense, but even highly dangerous!

Don’t get me wrong! Traditions and cultural customs have their important place in the daily life of people! They remind you of your roots and serve as the fabric for a social and cultural identity that gives people inner stability and confidence. However, there is a fine line between reasonable and “healthy” conduct of rituals (honouring ancestors, celebrating annual festivals, etc.) and superstitions that are based on tales, simplified explanations of natural phenomena or simply the result of misuse of power like in patriarchal or clerical societies. I don’t want to talk too much about religion now, that topic will come often enough, I am sure. For now, I’d just like to make the point that superstitions often go along with a kind of fatalism: “There is nothing I can do about it! The greater powers decided about it already!”. In case you get sick in the future, the Taiwanese will just say: “See! Misfortune! Pray more! Maybe she got a wrong mismatched name! Burn more incenses for her! Expel the ghosts from her room!”. When you are often misbehaving or don’t get good grades at school, they will blame your “personality” (that you are born with) and ultimately your genes. To me it sounds like an excuse. It shifts the responsibility for your well-being away from your family and towards some hypothetical supernatural ideas or towards a dogmatic “Nature” and its invisible intentions. Let me propose a more “sustainable” viewpoint that will support you and your needs much better: You are (most likely) born with a healthy and fully functioning body system. You will have all six senses and the physiognomic preconditions for all forms of emotions, motor function, cognition and interaction with the environment. Not more and not less. You “are” nothing (nothing that could be “labeled”) and at the same time everything (potentially). There is no such thing as “talent”. There is no such thing as destiny. You are born a blank page, ready to be filled and coloured. Your interaction with the environment, all the experiences that stream into you and create synaptic connections in the neuronal network of your brain, solidify what you will see as “the world”. Skills and abilities are formed and improved by “doing it” or “feeling it”, they are not “already there” from a time before your physical development from an embryo to a fetus or even before. You have all the potential, and it is our task as your parents to support them as best as possible, or – as a friend said – increase the number of options, or – as another friend, a teacher, the Buddha said – plant as many seeds as possible in you and water and nourish them so that the “right” ones grow into healthy manifestations. When we expose you to colourful geometrical figures in your surrounding you will develop better mathematical and imaginary skills. When we listen to music at home, you will get a feeling for it and learn to love it. When we read stories to you, you will get a creative mind full of fantasies and ideas. When we treat you with love and respect you as a full member of our family, you will also be able to love, trust and respect others and – more important – yourself. On the contrary, when we just hope you’ll be good in math (as in “born as someone good in math”), you will most likely fail. When we don’t play music or don’t read, you also won’t be interested in it. When I often lose temper with you and shout at you, you will also be a bad-tempered, angry, dissatisfied child that treats others with aggression. You see, the two opposing worldviews (destiny and pre-natal personality dispositions vs. life quality as the result of socialisation and response to environmental stimulation) have a direct impact on your life! I believe, we (your parents) have to give our best every day to give you all the chances to develop into a happy, peaceful, content human being! To give you roots and wings (to leave the nest someday without ever forgetting how to find it when you need it)! If you don’t acquire the tools to make yourself happy and content and to go “your way”, we can’t blame any gods, ghosts or “destiny”, but only ourselves and other disadvantageous factors in your environment (maybe school teachers, friends, etc.). Your way, like everybody else’s way, will be stony and not always smooth. But the more we understand that it is in our hands to deal with obstacles and difficulties, the more sustainable will be our approaches to reach our goals. A smart man once wrote: “I am the captain of my fate!”. In the vast ocean of life that is awaiting you, your Mom and me will build, repair, improve and maintain your ship that you are Captain of as best as we can! And it will be such a pleasure to see what way you choose and who you turn yourself into. Nothing is determined! Don’t be scared! You are not alone!

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