Today, June 1, it’s ‘Children’s day’ in China, a day of festivities for all the children here.
Our client, Acewill Technologies, on behalf of whom we (Hotel Management School Maastricht) are giving an executive course in leadership and gastronomy for the Food and Beverage Sector in Beijing this week, organised a surprise for the participants to honour Children’s day.
At 15.00 hours I find myself standing in a row, in front of a Chinese participant. We have been asked to open our hands and close our eyes and seconds later we feel something soft in our hands. Once allowed to open our eyes, I hear smothered sounds of laughter and happiness due to the red satin cloth we are holding. We help each other to make a nod in the scarf around each others neck, and only than I do realise that this cloth has something to do with children’s day as a vague memory of children wearing uniforms and a red scarf performing physical exercises pops up in my mind.
The animator invites us to participate in an exercise and I notice that everyone knows exactly what is expected. They make the same movements in synchrony with each other without the need to practice beforehand. I imitate as good as I can and suddenly I feel the impact of this joint gymnastic ritual. I become part of the group. For a moment I share the feeling of their collective experiences and history: everywhere in China, every kid in every school executes this gymnastic ritual three times a day. And by doing so the sense of belonging to a group is engrained in your body, in your life: this group becomes (a big) part of your identity. For a moment I understand in a physical way what collectivism is all about.
A similar experience comes to mind, six years ago at the military cemetery next to the Pentagon in Washington, where I was to complete my ORSC certification program. Until that moment I never understood why on earth someone would opt for a military career. However walking there, amongst the graves of so many soldiers, many of them having died to soon, I suddenly felt their proud, the fact of being part of something bigger than themselves, the sense of purpose and belonging. I understood.
Belonging to a group, collectivism, it’s tremendously powerful.