Jay Rifenbary

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A Lesson in Graciousness

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There have been many moments where I have witnessed the warmth, graciousness and hospitality of human beings, and my recent experience in the Peoples Republic of China this past week took that appreciation for those encounters to a new level. I was invited to share my “No Excuse!” message with approximately 1800 government and business officials in the city of Zuxhou, Jiang Su Province, a city of 9.5 million people, 375 miles south of Beijing. It would be my first visit to China and as I was flying over the North Pole en route there was excitement and a degree of anxiousness. Reflecting on the experience, words can barely express the overwhelming education I received from a human relations and personal awareness perspective. From the moment I arrived I was treated with a degree of dignity and respect that was unexpected and humbling. The arrangements made, the sites seen, the people met, and the cultural insights gained were invigorating and fulfilling. My visits to the Great Wall, the Bird’s Nest (Olympic Stadium), the Summer Palace, the Huai Hai Campaign Memorial Hall, the tomb of Gaozu the first emperor of the Han Dynasty, the recently uncovered terracotta warrior relics, lunches with CPC General Secretary Cao Xinping, Mayor of Xuzcho City Duan Xiong, and the gifts exchanged are just several of the opportunities I was provided.

However there was one event that added an element of human spirit that I was unprepared for. It was a dinner I shared with Wu Tianjun, VP and Chief Editor of Xuzcho Media; and during our meal he shared with me his time in a communist re-education camp following the Chinese Revolution of 1949. He was a young boy at the time and as I sat there listening, his comments were directed towards his belief in, and desire for, a better world. I was sitting as a stranger, an American citizen, a believer in the democratic ideals of our nation with an individual who was entrenched in the aftermath of a communist revolution, and one of the top business figures in the Xuzhou City. The enlightenment arrived when I realized we were not strangers at all. We had the same love for our community, our nation, our citizens, our family and a belief in the potential of humankind. We as individuals from different parts of the world had much more in common then we did different. We were discussing freedom, liberty and his genuine desire to learn from me how potentially to implement ideas to give his fellow citizens a belief in themselves, an understanding of the role of personal accountability, and to eliminate the practice of making excuses.

The graciousness and humility he demonstrated towards me struck an emotional cord that I will always remember and appreciate. I have always believed it is the dignity we demonstrate, mutual respect we exchange, and an apolitical approach towards issues that will always result in the betterment of lives around us. We gained an appreciation for one another, and a friendship. Things happen for reasons and all souls who meet come together for reasons. We always attract what we project regardless of whether it is a neighbor next door or a neighbor on the other side of the world. As a result of the graciousness I encountered consistently I gained an appreciation for the Chinese people, their culture and their future.

As I was an unofficial ambassador for our community of Saratoga Springs and our Nation during my visit, let us all extend graciousness and hospitality to one another and those who visit our wonderful community. It is a small world as demonstrated by my first morning in Beijing. Having breakfast, I asked a young Chinese gentleman what a particular dish was on the buffet. He provided an answer and we began to chat. As I shared with him where I was from, his faced glowed and he informed me that he had lived in Niskayuna, worked for GE, and had visited Saratoga Springs many times. Of the 1.3 billion Chinese, 303 million Americans and all the places in the world, my first morning in China I meet someone who knows where Saratoga Springs is? Are you kidding me? If only I had access to purchasing a lottery ticket that morning.



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