Integrating Cultures; Integrating Minds

Thursday, January 3, 2017
Shanghai, China

My Dear Readers,

Landing in Shanghai yesterday after 14 hours nonstop flying from Los Angeles, I was immediately struck by the few differences in people in the airport arrivals area. I stood in the line designated for “foreigners.” I looked over at the queue for the Chinese citizens. It was around 6pm local time. Here is the revelation:

You could have swapped one line for the other, and not tell the difference. Persons in both lines were speaking English, Mandarin, and assorted other languages. Persons in both lines dressed essentially the same. Their luggage appeared similar as did their clothing, usage of electronic devices, and styles of interaction.

Globalization has many negative effects. Among the most prominent, in my view, is the exploitation of the economically disadvantaged and the destruction of smaller, individual cultures. How it hurts my heart to see Starbucks and Burger King within a few blocks of the airport (and even within it)! These are definitely awful features of globalization.

Without in any way negating these, that airport scene reminds me of the positives. As Harry Stack Sullivan noted, people are much more similar than dissimilar. I know, from the last time I was here in 2013, things are changing quickly. I travelled then with an 83 year old psychiatrist from Vancouver, Hassan. He recalled a visit to China in the 1970s — bicycles everywhere, thousands of old yellow school buses used to guide tourists around, and much less traffic. [He told an unforgettable story of that era, by the way; he was urinating against a large wall intended for that purpose and suddenly all the streams of urine abruptly stopped. He looked up to see tens of sets of Chinese eyes staring at his penis; they had never seen a circumcised one before!!]

If we humans could only transcend our apparently DNA-based propensity towards “us versus them,” join together regarding our precious earth with its limited resources, and recognize our commonalities, world peace could be achievable. Perhaps the Chinese air (unbelievably bad in some areas, like Beijing) has caused me to sound like a Miss Universe contestant. I would hate that. Nonetheless, the imagery from the arrivals gate at the Pudong airport elicited these thoughts. I have the same impression after walking along Shanghai streets. Randomly exchange 100 people for ones in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, and you’d never know it. Little differences exist between human persons, I repeat, and much greater commonalities.

How does this relate to psychoanalysis? As I have written recently, the idea of “integration” is key to maturity, and maturity is the universal goal of psychoanalysis or any kind of depth psychotherapy. As integration occurs internally, e.g. reducing internal criticism, developing an openness that facilitates intimacy, a greater capacity for the same kind of integration occurs externally, e.g. most positive attitudes towards others, improved abilities for connection and communication.

Call me naive, and perhaps you will be correct. But there you have it from Shanghai, China, in early January 2017. I will be teaching a two-day workshop on Saturday and Sunday, Jan 7 and 8, and expect further validation of these impressions then. I shall keep you posted.

Submitted with affection,

Alan Karbelnig

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