When I was teaching in China, words began to mean something to different to me. In a communist government with extreme censorship streaming through every type of media, I had never been more aware of what I was saying, whom I was saying it to, and where I was saying it. Emails had to be double-checked, and would often go something like “Think of me, the high teacher is doing some things I have never seen before,” instead of “Pray for me, God is changing my heart.” Public questions from natives about my personal political and religious beliefs had to be deferred, and stories of Christ would be whispered in hushed tones inside closed, confined rooms. The world of Orwell’s 1984 soon became a reality, and I lived day to day with limited words, and ultimately, a keen sense of a sudden loss of freedom.
Back in America, words are looked at differently. There does not seem to be an acute awareness of what exactly we’re saying, who we’re saying it to, or where we are saying it. On the contrary, we’ve noticed our freedom and chosen instead to me dumb-for-free. We take our freedom of speech for granted and clutter the airways, the streets, and our homes with negative, unpleasant, and harmful comments about ourselves and the world around us. But I think back to China. I think about my students, 540 Chinese men and women between the ages of 18 and 60. I think about the things they whispered to me that they could not say aloud-- to their bosses, their peers, and even their families. I think about the depth of their worldview concerns and how they wish they could do something about them. I think about their limitations in free speech, free thought, and free will. And I think to myself, “If they could say anything… anything at all… what would they say?”
In an uncensored, free world, what do we choose to say? We do not exist within the legalistic boundaries of communist nations. We do not live day to day with the government deleting every other unique thought we put online. We do not clench in fear of the contents of our public speeches. And what are we doing with this freedom? Do we see the value in communication? Do we speak as if people are listening? Do we use our words with the intention to make the world better?
My last week in Beijing, two of my female students quietly revealed to me that they had daughters-- hidden from the government. This is a major issue in their region of China, because more than one child isn’t aloud, and generally, families will choose the son to survive. They each had sons in their home, and secretly were hiding daughters in another region, quietly paying the family taking care of them, working over-time every week in order to do so. They told me that they wish to speak of their daughters everyday. They told me that if they could fight for one thing to their “good but harsh leaders,” they would fight for the right to have both a son, and a daughter. Without question, if they could say anything, if they could fight for anything, they would fight for just that… a chance to speak of their daughters out loud; a chance to be to be their own child’s mother.
It makes me think differently of the battles we choose.
We can fight for anything.
What are we fighting for?
What are we saying?