One of the gifts of our work is that we are able to spend time in countries all over the world, both directly or through our network of Global Fellows. For instance, Malcolm and I recently returned from running workshops in Denmark, which included participants from Brazil and Iran, and we will soon return to Cyprus to speak at a conference there.
One population that has repeatedly demonstrated an appetite for learning about emotional health are the Chinese. We have visited China, both Hong Kong and the mainland, a number of times and introduced the concepts of emotional health and the Enneagram to different groups of people over many years.
The Chinese enthusiasm for these ideas is demonstrated by the fact that we’ve recently been able to publish a complete Chinese translation of our most recent book, Working with Emotional Health and the Enneagram*, thanks to the enthusiasm and tireless work of our China-based colleague Yu Peng Qiu and his business partner Susie Niu.
Our ability to share the concepts of emotional health across so many and varied cultures says something about how fundamentally human they are. Emotional health centres very much on the person, as a human being, independent of their ethnicity, culture, gender, age or any of the other distinctions society likes to make.
The conversations we have around ‘above- and below-the-line’, the automated responses or triggers that can send us below the line, the notions of the inner observer and presence are all very similar whether we are in Melbourne, Nicosia or Beijing.
We see some cultural differences reflected in our workshops, of course. For instance, the comfort level of someone sharing their thoughts in front of a large group varies from one country to the next. However, by making adjustments, such as breaking a large group up into much smaller groups, or pairs, we are almost always able to find a way to promote open conversation – and it’s remarkable how similar those discussions are across diverse societies.
Emotional health has more to do with how people are than where they live. It reminds us that, ultimately, we are all humans first, and we have a lot more in common than that which differentiates us.
All of which brings me to another point I feel needs to be made at this moment. The arrival and spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus is understandably causing concern across the world. Unfortunately, it is also providing a stark illustration of above- and below-the-line reactions on a global scale.
As a simple example, consider the varied responses to the sight of people, particularly Asians, wearing face masks – a common practice in many countries, not just at times like this.
A healthy above-the-line response to this is to see the masks as a sign of mutual accountability: that people wear masks both to prevent themselves being infected and to prevent themselves sharing any infection they may have with someone else.
In contrast, a below-the-line response is to be fearful of people wearing masks, to perceive them as somehow dangerous, and to use them as reinforcement of an existing conception that Asia, and China in particular at this time, is somehow responsible for the existence of this virus.
This new virus is a global problem that we, as an entire population, need to confront together. We all need to take an emotionally healthy approach – sharing responsibility and understanding we are all part of fixing the problem. Emotionally unhealthy below-the-line reactions, including fear, blame and racism, will not help.
The incredible response to Australia’s dreadful bushfires this summer, both locally and from all over the world, demonstrated once again how adversity can bring us together. A similarly emotionally healthy, human-to-human response is needed to the coronavirus outbreak.