Prior to departing for my summer study abroad in Taipei, Taiwan, I was told all sorts of amazing stories about the various types of delicious food, rich tradition, and beautiful geography that Taiwan had to offer. I heard how trying the bubble tea was a necessity and that I could find a 7-11 on virtually every corner. While all of these things met my expectations and so much more, one hidden gem that I quickly discovered was the Taiwanese people’s respect and adjuration to the virtue of humility.
I first became aware of this when I was boarding the bus for the first time and I accidentally bumped into a man who was sitting down with my backpack. While this was a seemingly normal occurrence, what threw me off guard was that before I even had a chance to open my mouth, the man was apologizing to me with a kind look in his eyes. I was very confused because the incident was clearly my fault. I initially wrote the matter off as if this was just a very kind man, however, the more I paid attention to it, the more I began to see the role humility plays in everyday life here. I noticed how many people I interacted with would downplay themselves and their own abilities whenever I would try and give a compliment. I also appreciated how whenever I would go out for food with the locals, they would always try and offer me food and a seat first as a way of showing their hospitality.
Having grown up near Los Angeles, California, seeing humility from strangers was not a common occurrence for me. While many people will treat their friends and family well back home, the saying, “fake it till you make it”, is largely viewed as a necessity if you want to survive and be respected out in public. This can be seen from people cutting one another in lines all the way to how cars are competing with one another at intersections. It is also typically viewed that being overly humble or apologetic would lead to people taking advantage of you or not respecting your opinions, however, my stay in Taiwan so far has shown me how that isn’t always the case.
While having any virtue ultimately can only be determined on an individual basis, the positive aspects of a culture that values modesty can be seen everywhere. I believe that the Taiwanese culture has learned the importance of showcasing humility towards one another due to the prominence of a variety of different eastern religions as well as through its ethnic diversity. A society that isn’t too egocentric or obsessed with trying to one-up each other really breeds a positive atmosphere of mutual respect. Being humble also creates a certain level of friendliness that makes it easier for others to relate and talk to you. Seeing such a high degree of humility on a societal level has definitely encouraged me. I am looking forward to seeing which other virtues are deemed important in Taiwanese society and how those virtues show themselves in everyday life.
By: Justus Haines
Program: Tradition and Modernity in Taiwan
Term: Summer 2018