From East to West

article image

Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy
Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted
philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and
touring his “Concert & Conversation” series in support of his book
Life Is What You Make It.

I’ve just returned from China. And now that I have a small
outlet for my thoughts, I might as well write them down and see if they make

As many readers know, I’ve worked on musical projects that
include many expressions of my deep feelings regarding American Indian—as
well as any indigenous—culture. 

We all came from a tribe at some point in our past. But
there are few people in the world that survive in the manner that we were once
all accustomed to. As you might expect, I believe that our previous way of life
had a lot of valuable components to it. But please don’t accuse me of
romanticizing the past. I just wish we could have retained some of the
important parts, specifically the parts around us being just a part of a larger
world, a world that we were meant to live in relationship to—not in control of.

On my first trip to China, my “aha” moment was
realizing that the country is, indeed, quite full of the same feeling that I
had when I got to know people in “Indian Country.” I recognized a soul in China that I
didn’t expect. And then it became obvious: the Chinese people are nearly all
indigenous; the land they live on was inhabited by their ancestors for

What I was seeing was that same way of being that Columbus saw when he
first landed. I quoted him in an earlier blog. But the upshot is that he met
people with their hearts open. Ready and willing to listen, learn, share, have
fun, believe in things, and connect.

I don’t go to China for commerce. I go there to
share my story if it’s at all helpful. 

My book, has been met with great success in China. There
are a couple of reasons for that, none probably more obvious than the fact
that I am Warren Buffett’s son. But that’s absolutely fine with me. It gives me
a key into a world I would have never seen. Now that I’m in, I’m having a look

I won’t lie: it takes a lot of energy. But it’s an
interesting kind of effort. And I think that’s what happens when any two
cultures meet.

Think of it as a pan of water. In its liquid state it’s
very stable. And the same is true when it’s frozen. Those are like two
different cultures. When the two states of being—with all the
meanings and customs that they’re used to—meet, that’s where the energy of
worlds colliding is released.

Here’s the tricky part about this exchange: When that
relationship is forged with either side trying to get the better deal, as
opposed to the better understanding, things can get a little ugly. Obviously,
this can easily happen in any market driven relationship. And of course,
whoever sets the measuring stick usually gets an advantage.

So here’s what I’m so struck by.

In China
my book is entitled Be Yourself. And at first, I was thinking it
was mostly written for the young adults in China that would be curious about
the fact that I followed a very surprising—and, to them, inspiring—life

When I spent more time there, I was so struck by how much
Western advertising for high end products I saw. And as I stepped further back
and also got a little deeper into the experience of being there, I saw how the
measuring stick of Western values was slowly being superimposed everywhere.

It starts simply enough with things like the Gregorian
calendar. China
still uses the Lunar Calendar for important dates. But otherwise, the gridlines
of the West have been put to use on a daily basis.

But I love that the whole country has one time zone (even
though it straddles five). I’ll bet in most of China they still say, “time to get
up … time to have lunch …” etc. As opposed to “6:45” or “12:30.”

But when you start to see metrics in fashion, economics,
real estate that all look pretty Western, it feels like putting a square peg in
a round hole.

So I’ve come to learn that my Chinese book, Be Yourself, actually applies to the
country at large. The development of a social system for mankind (I’m including
all elements anyone can think of—politics, markets, medicine, education, etc.) is
a work in progress. Sure China
can learn things from other societies. But clearly, it must Be Itself. If it
loses the centuries upon centuries of soul, the world loses. If the West
insists on addicting the East to its version of growth and prosperity, I call
this no different than the Opium Wars of the past.

I’m really not sure what to do about this other than say it
out loud. Many of the Chinese people I speak to seem to be deeply concerned
that China
will lose something extremely rare and valuable in the rush towards a very
confounding version of growth and happiness. And it’s not just the older

I know the culture still holds a deep sense of balance. It’s
the heartbeat of any indigenous culture. If it stays strong, I believe there
will be a better future for us all.

What do you think? Share your story at Visit www.peterbuffett.comto learn more and Change Our Story to
join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping
our future.

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.