China is the world’s oldest surviving civilization. America is the world’s youngest civilization. Each people have a lot they could learn from the other. The realities of contemporary politics force us to acknowledge that the United States of America is not likely to learn many lessons from the People’s Republic of China. Yet the American civilization has a lot to learn from the Chinese civilization. How do two nations resolve this seemingly contradictory situation?
One of the first obstacles to overcome is generating an appreciation among Americans that they are indeed a civilization. Most Americans only see themselves as citizens of a country. What is a civilization? Most Americans would have a difficult time answering this question on their own, but in group discussion the dialogue is often much more clear. The Tai Initiative sponsors small group discussion events in cities across America to provide a mechanism by which anyone interested in the US/China relationship can participate in understanding the issues, learn the history of Chinese civilization, reflect on the American experience, and answer for themselves how to play their own role in the dialogue.
Most Chinese would have a difficult time agreeing that America is a civilization, but most would agree that the Chinese civilization has a lot to teach. The Tai Initiative seeks Chinese sponsors to engage citizens in their own small groups to similarly learn their own history as well as that of America, reflect on the experience of others who have learned from China, and help generate opportunities for China to teach America the best lessons from thousands of years of experience.
This third element of The Tai Initiative strategy is a unique endeavor requiring the greatest amount of reflection and experimentation in American society. Early attempts at small group engagement through book reading dinner discussion groups have proven to be engaging, thought-provoking, exciting experiences. A side benefit of these events has also been the opportunity to strengthen individuals’ experiences with the other two elements of our strategy: networking and leadership. At each event, strangers with common interests meet, creating new relationships of benefit to one another. Participants are also inspired to participate in the larger dialogue by practicing being civilized leaders in their own communities.