opinion

A Southerner’s Shield

As a nation of 320 million, we Americans tend to think of ourselves as celebrating diversity, but diversity inherently brings along conflict. Some of that conflict lies in political differences; as tribalism makes its stake on the Hill, we have settled into a land of two extremes.

What shocks me is the deliberate infusion of religion into politics. Go to any church in the Bible Belt and you’ll hear a lecture on the “correct” definition of marriage. Ask any grits-eating pastor how we started off and you’ll get a tale of a busy seven days; then he’ll tenuously trace that to how tree-hugging libtards are falsifying information about climate change.

Where is the love?  Where is the profundity?

A Christian myself, I often wonder what my religious role models mean by denying pure, unequivocal fact. I have been taught that facts, anthropological, archeological, literary, and historical, all corroborate my religious beliefs. I have also been taught about the importance of love and humility. However, here we are in the modern age, refuting some of the most basic tenets of Christianity. Instead of preaching tolerance for our neighbors, we exude hatred and bigotry, shutting off immigrants with different skin tones and religions, shutting off our brothers and sisters with different sexualities and gender identities. Here we are in the modern age, relentlessly morphing friends into foes; science and religion used to be compatible, and now they are seemingly destined to battle for the minds of the future. On one side, unadulterated zeal for discovery. On another, jaded parochialism. There is no doubt that evolution and climate change are here to stay rightfully, given centuries worth of data and logical analysis.

This is why religion is fading into the background in Western industrialized nations; because we’ve fallen from our moral ideals, the religious establishment presents itself as a relic of a bygone era. By refusing to rethink old arbitrary notions, many obstinate churches across the U.S. are facing a gradual, painful death. Educated bicoastal millennials are shunning Sunday service in droves. In some circles, there’s even a social stigma attached to piety; religion for them belongs on the archival shelves of humanity.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Religion and marriage equality can coexist. Religion and science can coexist. In fact, the underlying principles of Christianity, universal love and fact-finding, also buttress gay pride and the burgeoning STEM sector. Furthermore, religion in this modern era provides, as researcher Philip Schwadel states, “community…friends…psychological support and economic support…a lot more than simply an understanding of where they are in the world in relation to the afterlife.” That’s the church I imagine: not one of angry white people preaching about the downfall of an open-border, sex-positive, multifarious nation, but of radiant smiles in dark nights, open arms to those who need to be loved the most, and of a gathering space for people from all walks of life, to break bread and seek shelter from anxiety-inducing social media and the surrounding vacuity. It’s a place of acceptance and understanding, a haven for those who have nowhere else to go. It’s a place of deep thought, of probing, of truth-finding. It’s for the forever-single adventure-seekers, wine-guzzling housewives, and unemployed college graduates. Christianity is for everyone.

Traditional church leaders need to undergo a serious period of introspection and a heartfelt transformation in order to win back its future… including me.

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opinion

Bagpipe and its Fake Differences

These past few years, race has emerged as a topic of discussion in Highland Park, a community whiter than a marshmallow. One reason is the influx of minorities; thankfully, HP is gradually getting more diverse as time goes on. However, not all are receptive to this change. There have been numerous incidents of overt racism, ranging from hate crimes to petty remarks. This became the exigence for the Bagpipe‘s (our school’s newsmagazine) largest endeavor yet, a long-form about race.

The idea is noteworthy. Brave. To broach this ugly topic in such an unwelcoming neighborhood takes some otherworldly chutzpah. The execution? Botched would be an understatement.

Instead of pulling back the curtains of ignorance and negligence, the piece added more and more curtains, hiding a stage for students of color to honestly talk about racism in their home. The majority of students interviewed provided little, if any, substantial insight on this matter; what was written included not urgency and passion, but lassitude and nonchalance. Given the elevated socioeconomic background of most of those in the profile, racism ceases to become a major factor in quality of life. That’s not the case in everywhere else in the U.S. It is understandable that some of these Scots of color didn’t add much to the public discourse on racism in the modern era, but noxious aftereffects lie latent. White readers might be convinced that racism doesn’t exist in 2017 after all, given the lame answers in the article, more likely to perpetuate racial discord with a complete lack of understanding of the topic of racism. This is dangerous to everyone, not just Americans of color. Such illiteracy will only snowball, encouraging the continuation of the decades of racism and intolerance that plague the Park Cities and the United States as a whole. The future generation of America must understand the far-reaching repercussions of racism and be willing to act to ameliorate unequal social and political conditions for minorities.

What’s even more concerning is the inadvertent limelight on Asian stereotypes. As grade-grubbing. As nerds. As incompetent in social skills. As foreigners, outsiders, those who are so different from the rest of “us.” This not only hinders Asian-Americans’ easing into the American cultural tapestry but also misrepresents an entire race. Millions of people–completely different in class, gender identity, sexual orientation, social and academic background and affiliation–suffer from this myth, and this article will surely not help out with unifying Americans and promoting racial equality and mutual understanding.

We need some chicken noodle soup for the soul in order to make a dent in this centuries-old juggernaut. What does that entail? Dialogue, empathy, and an open heart.

opinion

The Power of Humor

Every Saturday night at 11 p.m., well past my bedtime in years yonder, I dropped down into the billowing cushions of my Cheeto-smeared, olive-green couch, turned on the TV that was becoming a tween (like me), and flipped to channel 5, NBC. Saturday Night Live has walked by my side as I have grown up, and as our country has metamorphosized. From “Peggy” to “The Californians” to “Gilly at the Science Fair,” I’ve lived all the memorable moments of that characteristic punch of humor. Before this raucous election season, SNL took a steep downturn, but the innate comedic genius has finally cracked out of its pupa.

Never before has a president so irrationally excoriate free press and media before. Trump’s baseless and ignoble attacks on SNL are no exception to his usual complaining. In response, one of the greatest eras of satire has emerged. This time around, instead of gross travesties of political caricatures and obscene jokes, SNL has repeatedly hit home runs with every show. Lorne Michaels and the cast now refuse to obfuscate their scathingly brilliant political commentary, displaying the highlights of the week’s political headlines with panache. More interesting is their continual use of comediennes to act out male roles within the Beltway. Kate McKinnon and Melissa McCarthy have effused the political incompetence and egregious unscrupulousness of the current kakistocracy, a feature that Trump loathes even more than “illegals” taking “our jobs.” The nettlesome behavior embodies the quintessence of comedy done right.

Through their various courageous stunts, SNL has helped us rediscover the power of humor–no, it is not merely escapism in times of darkness and uncertainty. It is a tool to poke holes at the establishment, to remind us of our true fundamental values, to shout from mountaintops for those who cannot even whisper in the deepest abysses. Humor is what we the people can use to cast light on pressing issues to be solved statim and to express our common sentiments. This is how we crystallize our beliefs with which we can rally. We can make a real difference with our midnight jokes–what we need is belief. Now shall we rise and plant our seedlings of our grousings to grow the bountiful orchards of satirical discontent. Trust me, the fruit will taste sweet.

opinion

Here’s to 2017!

Well-known by now, 2016 was dubbed the worst year in recent history. There’s plenty to support this claim, from the unprecedented “Brexit” referendum and U.S. election outcomes to the horrific terrorist attacks in Europe to an unending string of celebrity deaths. Many, including myself, are looking forward to the new year, but there is some room to despair: how will Trump’s nascent and capricious administration change the course of the U.S., if at all? What will happen to ISIS and Syria? How will U.S.-Russia and U.S.-China relations play out in the near future?

2017 is definitely a clean slate, yet it is also shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. The tribulations that racked our world in the past year will probably proceed into this fresh one, as problems don’t follow the arbitrary human definitions of time. What we must imbed into our mentalities looking forward is a sense of hopeful optimism and tenacity–it may seem like pandemonium now, but decades and centuries down the road, humankind will look back and find that we, as a global community, will grow together and discover that, underneath the masquerades of labels and pretenses, we share more similarities than diverge in our differences. Through these troubling waters, our mast will inevitably guide us to dry land. It is critical to the benefit of all the world’s citizens to take part in healing and loving in times of despondency and hopelessness. Stepping into this new liminal state on a dreary and cloudy day, I carry a slight smile on my face and an umbrella to battle the rain.

opinion

2017年,一定要沉住气

今天,我决定换语言来表达我的心思。我的中文水平虽然不强,但是我觉得这语言才能恰当地表示这些感想。

如今,美国收了巨大的刺激——在这个一团乱糟的竞选,一名变幻莫测的候选人,特朗普,赢得了总统任期,西方最有权力的高官,而大部分的美国选民没有为他投了票。希拉里夺了多数民众投票(近于290万票超过特朗普),却遭到输掉选举团投票票数 (304票比227票)。这次公举在美国历史当中算最接近的选举其中之一。 此外,30%的大众不认为特朗普会满足选民的期望或完满地完成索要的任务。他的异乎寻常的胜利也已经引起了全国增多仇恨罪,向穆斯林、西班牙裔、非裔、华裔的歧视,一次一次更恶略,更卑鄙无耻。我们的国家标出破散的心态,彻底失去了此国上百年的和谐的“胶”。

我用中文是为了传达这个意思:美国是在一个本质上多元文化,旷达,宽容的基础创立的。我们的本性并不是在于种族歧视,交恶,分裂。由于保持我们共和国的志向,我们一定要沉得住气,一定要欢迎从四面八方来的移民,一定要做为包容,厚德,彬彬有礼的人民。在这关键的测验中,美国必须记得我们祖宗的至理名言;1787年,当我们国家刚通过宪法,有一位公民问 Benjamin Franklin 美国该拥有那种政府制度,他回答:”A republic, if you can keep it.”

opinion, time capsule

*Edited version of “Be a Stargirl”

Hello,

As I’ve looked back on my blogposts, I’ve realized how much I have grown (will expound upon once school ends). One piece really stuck out to me: “Be a Stargirl.” I know can see the pure (almost obnoxious) naïveté of my freshman years. Now I’ve learned to craft, to mold, to pinch a distinct form for my writing, and not just a swish of a paintbrush. So here goes, a revised version of one of my very first posts here:

Eccentricity, believe it or not, is not just used in conic sections. Neither is it just anti-war student protesters of the 70s, vegan automobile-boycotters in hipster-land, or vagabond artists whom we tend to associate with this term. We may think of these more extreme examples, but non-conformists live all around us and end up fundamentally changing the world.

The twisted brother of eccentricity, conformity hits close to home. For example, in our town, young girls run in hordes in matching, oversized Cotton Island T-shirts. In middle school, baggy athletic shorts are the must-haves for boys. Both male and female high-schoolers wear the same few brands as well—so different in their dress and yet so similar in their willingness to mindlessly jump on the rickety bandwagon.

Another community has a similar issue: the setting of The Giver by Lois Lowry. Jonas, the protagonist, lives in a world without hunger, war, or uncertainty but also devoid of color, love, and music. His life in this dystopian community is merely a shell of himself. Jonas takes special pills to hide romantic feelings, and his thoughts and actions are the same as everyone else’s—nothing distinguishes him from the rest of the citizens. However, this all changes when Jonas is selected (without his input) to be the next “Receiver,” the sole human repository of all past memories, ranging from pleasant to heartbreaking. With these powerful emotions instilled in him, Jonas peels off the veneer of his home, uncovering the ugly truth of his hometown and its complete suppression of the human soul. After realizing the disaster of homogeneity and the eery orthodoxy in his former home, Jonas flees; he jeopardizes survival for a taste of living as a unique individual, and not like a grain of sand in a dust storm.

Although the world we live in will never be as monochromatic as the “sameness” sphere in the novel, the story still inspires me and thousands of others across the world to pick Dr. Pepper in Coke vs. Pepsi, to think outside of the shackled box we live in. The Giver reminds us to enjoy the adventure of free expression that we take for granted.

Non-conformity make real-life global impacts too, not just in some fictional dystopian town. If our history on Earth were a book, the dog-eared pages would be ones written by non-conformists—those who dared to say that our planet wasn’t flat or wasn’t the center of the universe, those who argued that humans could go into outer space, those who refused to let go of their seats to another man just because of his race. Non-conformists have brought exciting innovation and radical transformations of our understanding of our natural surroundings, our society, and, most importantly, ourselves. They remind us to take off any masks we put on and provide a key to unlock our real personalities and passions embedded deep inside of us.

Then again, you don’t have to be anyone extraordinary or seemingly-superhuman to reject the status quo. Right here, everyone can participate in making our high school and community-at-large a welcoming haven for acceptance of everyone. Our community doesn’t have to be just a simple drawing of uniform blue and gold; it can, and should, be a vibrant mosaic of many different colors and shapes and patterns. Our community shouldn’t be a single tuning note; it can develop into a symphony of different sounds and rhythms and textures. It should be a celebration of who each one of us is.

In a famous scene of the movie Dead Poets Society, the English teacher John Keating leads his students to walk outside in the courtyard. Soon, they are walking together, and everyone is clapping to a singular beat. Keating then tells his students that conformity is easy, but going against what your friends are doing is hard. He challenges them to walk at their own pace and to stride in their own beat.

My challenge to you? Dare to be different.

opinion

Ivy Mania

For the top 3% of America, the question facing high-school seniors isn’t “Should I go to college?”; rather, they ask: “Where should I go to college?” More often, they shoot for stars rather than Mars.

It’s a tortuous and “torture-ous” journey, high school. With four years of community service, extracurriculars ranging from honor societies to clubs to sports and music, and (of course, least importantly) grades in twenty different AP/IB classes, it’s no wonder why people jet off for college without a skip of a beat. High school for the scions of the nation’s most well-off involves a personal chauffeur (aka “Mom”) shuttling around to soccer practices and building houses and SAT tutoring… all for those fateful few months of senior year.

When I hear or read about stories of children whose parents have cherry-picked every activity since middle school, organizing sailing camps during the summer or teaching “those poor Guatemalans,” I start to doubt whether this entire system works–what is the purpose of these events if the children aren’t the ones who initiate? What use will going to one of the world’s most academically-rigorous learning institutions if children have been led to believe that May 1st was the end of their woes and their life? As I delve deeper into the murky depths of this thing we call high school, especially in such a privileged area, I start to notice the toxicity of such an environment. Where bragging rights are from who sleeps the latest, who has the highest GPA, who has the most b.s. leadership positions in clubs that meet only for the yearbook picture. It feels like I’m wading through a combination of quicksand and vomit. Gross.

It’s become so deeply-ingrained in the minds of rich whites and Asians that the panacea for all wounds, for all ailments, is a hearty, quarter-million-dollar education in HYPSMCCBWKSDMC or whatever acronyms float around on CC (you have been warned). Three words for the confused: it will not.

“Well, this must be one of those online rants, isn’t it?  He’s just jealous he’ll never make it. He’s just so cynical, and there are good people in this world!”

Yes, anonymous dissenter whom I will duel, there are good people in this world. There are high schoolers who do belong in an Ivy League school; these are the people who want to make a change in the world around them, not necessarily a fancy diploma or a plain-vanilla, comfortable life with a seven-digit-figure salary. These are the ones who dare to think above “how do I get into an Ivy League;” rather; they are those who say, “How will I make use of my skills and make my impact?”

High school is much more than preparing for college; it should prepare you for life. During these four years, make friendships that’ll carry on until you wear dentures instead of Free People skirts; find what intrigues you and beckons your attention; discover your personal strengths and weaknesses; develop stellar study habits and your own likable personality; and of course, kick up your legs and enjoy the rough yet rewarding cobblestone path that we call life.

Life is no sprint; life is a marathon~~