How could Raleigh be better for more communities in 2022? We asked local community leaders and doers to share their ideas for the future.
Next up, Chuan Tsay shares his perspective. Chuan is a native North Carolinian and the co-owner of Heirloom in Downtown Raleigh. He is particularly focused on social economics and the Asian American experience.
By Chuan Tsay
When we’re younger, we tend to seek out things we aspire to have, things we think we need to have… things we can’t have. In short, we think the grass is greener on the other side.
As some of us become older, oftentimes we try to protect and preserve the grass we already have. We find an appreciation for the things that currently surround us. We start to think more about how our long-term personal wellness and growth are interdependent with that of the communities around us. Watering and caring for only one spot of grass and neglecting, nay, judging and avoiding the remainder of a large lawn is certainly a myopic and ill-fated approach to lawn care.
I first moved to Raleigh nearly 18 years ago, when our city moved at a slower pace and was a lot less diverse in all aspects. Although, for a teenager who had rarely left a sleepy small town, Raleigh was a bustling city with all types of people even back then.
But as I grew accustomed to Raleigh and treated it as my springboard to other cities, my young energy drove me to chase greener pastures. I spent time deciding how to model myself, who to hang out with, what material goods I should have (or shouldn’t have). I dreamed of moving elsewhere to find similar crowds. I was designing and signaling myself based on extrinsic aspirations rather than letting myself naturally evolve.
Social media makes it easy to profile someone or something literally within seconds of viewing their digital page, instead of conversing with them, listening and letting your discussions guide relationships.
To get to know a city used to mean exploring aimlessly, taking in the sights, sounds and smells, not knowing what’s around the corner, stopping to ask for directions.
The unknown used to be fun. The journey of getting there was just as important as the destination itself.
Now, we’ve been reduced to profile pages of labels and attributes. We don’t allow ourselves to talk to people who don’t fit a particular profile. We’re afraid of being associated with things that don’t fit our social segment, things that will lower our social score.
We perform actions, purchase specific brands, and take photos based on the approval of others rather than the guidance of our own hearts and minds. Worse, there are people that watch and keep track. They will critique words and actions and hold them accountable to the highest power of modern society.
We’ve been polarized and sterilized. While that is a generalization, it’s something we can easily fall victim to as a city and its people.
Cities and people that grow rapidly find themselves at a crossroads.
Do we need to turn one way and try to become like the next largest city we’re chasing in the rankings? A city of virtue signalers, ready to define themselves by the number of friendships they successfully ended or the number of upvotes they’ve received?
Or do we need to turn the other way and become the antithesis of something or nothing in particular?
Do we need to take time, slow down, and actually have no destination?
Do we cruise straight through the intersection and take a natural route that involves getting to know our neighbors in a non-digital manner, stopping to chat with strangers because it feels nice, understanding someone’s circumstances and viewpoints instead of forcing their reputations to be ransomed?
Do we invest in our community in ways that make sense, not because it makes headlines?
Cities and their people can’t be judged purely based on statistics and economic velocity. That is a race to nowhere.
And when milestones have been hit, developers, profiteers and clout seekers will move on to the next city, leaving behind confused communities.
Ever notice how some older individuals seem content to let the young, self-determinant whippersnapper ramble on and on about all they know? As if the retired grandparent hadn’t a clue besides a relaxed demeanor and smile on their face in contrast to a stressed-out Reddit scroller.
One feels the need to define themselves and the other doesn’t. One has been there before. They’ve arrived at their destination and understand that the journey was really what mattered. They’re listening and appreciating.
As an Asian American man who spent most of my life aware of where I wasn’t welcome, I experience cities not in terms of how many culinary awards they carry nor how many companies, festivals, protests or volunteering events they host. I experience cities based on the small interactions – how people interact with me, how they interact with each other.
Raleigh is an amazing city. We’re at a point in our city’s history where many things have naturally chosen to converge here.
Our collective talent, diligence, and diversity have made us the envy of many. However, much of our growth is yet to come.
It’s the type of growth that can’t be quantified. How happy will we be in our own skin? Will we feel accomplished if our successes didn’t become digitally viral? Do we truly appreciate people for being their true selves?
A few years ago, I made a significant change to my career and daily life. During that period of time, I grasped onto the Japanese concept of “ikigai,” loosely translated as “the purpose for being.”
Ikigai has been credited for contributing to the Japanese mindset of collective harmony. In 2022, my one hope is that we all spend time each day being mindful of what our intentions are. Be present during conversations. Appreciate that we’re all different. Our lives are not a performance “for the ‘gram.” Try to understand why people are the way they are. Focus on their needs and not just your own. Don’t worry – someone will reciprocally focus on yours.
As we all converge in one beautiful city, we have the opportunity ahead of us that many communities missed during their chase for greatness, as defined by status and standings.
We can become a city with an enduring sense of ikigai that leads with generativity, a complementary concept that was defined by the late Erik Erikson as “the ability to transcend personal interests to provide care and concern for younger and older generations.”
Erik Erikson was noted as saying that “life doesn’t make any sense without interdependence. We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all” and that “the richest and fullest lives attempt to achieve an inner balance between three realms: work, love, and play.”
That certainly sounds like the Raleigh I’ve grown to know and adore.
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