“I’m worried that my colleagues at work might ignore me.”
2023.9.18. Casual Conversation with Ven. Pomnyun Sunim (19) New York
The nineteenth lecture of Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s 2023 overseas Dharma Talk tour was held in the world-famous metropolis, New York, USA.
Despite the pouring rain outside, 220 people filled the seats at Queens College for today’s lecture.
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim initiated the conversation, emphasizing the importance of living with minimal consumption in the era of the climate crisis.
“When plastic was first introduced, many people welcomed it as a non-perishable material, and it greatly improved our lives in terms of convenience. However, in the future, non-biodegradable microplastics pose a significant threat to humanity, following the climate crisis. Microplastics do not decompose, so they flow into the oceans in the form of tiny particles that are not visible to the naked eye. Marine fish ingest these particles, which accumulate in their bodies. When humans consume these fish, microplastics enter our bodies as well. The long-term health consequences of this accumulation of microplastics in the human body are still unknown.
Just as the 20,000 components of a car are intricately connected according to a blueprint to make it move, so too is the intricate interconnectedness of all things in the universe, allowing many forms of life to thrive. The climate crisis, brought about by human overconsumption, is leading to the extinction of numerous species and is a stark warning of the impending threat of human extinction.
A fundamental solution to addressing the climate crisis
Although technology can be helpful in these situations, it only alleviates symptoms and is not a fundamental cure. The fundamental treatment is to reduce consumption. But can we who are addicted to consumption really reduce our consumption?
Unless we reduce consumption, humanity is inevitably headed towards extinction. It’s a matter of time, whether it takes 50 years or 100 years. Therefore, those who indulge in luxury and overconsumption are not to be envied but considered adversaries of humanity. In the era of climate crisis, your values need to undergo significant changes. We must adopt the perspective that those who overconsume are enemies of humanity, not objects of envy, and work towards reducing consumption.
Living a simple life and finding satisfaction in it can lead individuals to contentment, making them happier without constantly craving more. Additionally, as economic disparities decrease, the overall happiness of society can improve. In this way, we can collectively work towards overcoming the climate crisis.
The person who first presented this path and set an example by walking it, in my view, is what I consider to be a “Buddha.” He willingly gave up a position of potential kingship, forsook a life of wealth and abundance, scavenged for food, wore cast-off clothing, and slept under trees. Despite this, he found happiness within himself and led others onto the path of happiness. The teachings of the Buddha were not about praying for blessings to reach a better place after death; they were about showing humanity a new path to follow, especially relevant in the era of the climate crisis. In this regard, I would like to call the Buddha’s Dharma “the ancient path for the future” because it teaches us how to live a life free from suffering.
After the discussion up to this point, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim received questions. Many people requested questions, and he was able to have conversations with 11 individuals over the course of two hours. Among them, one person expressed concern that due to her language limitations, she might be ignored by her American colleagues while working. She sought advice from Ven. Pomnyun Sunim on this matter.
I’m worried that my colleagues at work might ignore me.
“I have been in the United States for 21 years now. Working with Americans at my job often feels challenging. I frequently feel disheartened by my inability to communicate in English as fluently as someone born here. I also worry that my coworkers might ignore me. Particularly, when company meetings don’t go as planned or my opinions aren’t well-received, I tend to automatically blame my language limitations, which undermines my confidence. I got married here, and I consider the United States the foundation of my life. Assuming that I won’t be returning to Korea in the foreseeable future, how can I approach this situation with a mindset that will help me overcome the distress and challenges?”
“Do you have children?”
“No. Not yet.”
“If a child is born in the United States, would there still be language issues even if they physically look like a Korean? Or would there not be any language issues?”
“There would not.”
“However, you used Korean in Korea before coming to the United States, so there might naturally be some language limitations. Just like how someone from Gyeongsang Province may continue to use their regional dialect even after living in Seoul for a long time, does it happen or not?”
“Even within the same country, such language limitations can arise. For instance, if a North Korean or someone from Yanbian were to come and live in Seoul, would their regional dialect and accent completely disappear just because they’ve lived there for 20 years?”
“It won’t go away.”
“However, when you immigrate at a young age, you can usually overcome language limitations more easily. But if you immigrate as an adult, it can be challenging to fully overcome language limitations. Similar to this, even if you have lived in the United States for a long time, the fact that you came as an adult means that your accent may not change significantly. So, shouldn’t you accept it to some extent and live with it? There may not be any other viable option.”
“It seems like I have high expectations for myself.”
“Someone who comes to the United States after living in Korea and expects to speak English fluently like a native-born American after turning 20 can be considered overly ambitious. This is because they are ignoring the natural reality, which leads to constant frustration. If you’ve immigrated, you should be prepared to accept such drawbacks to some extent.
Of course, if there is discrimination against your legally protected rights, you should consider taking legal action, as the U.S. law prohibits discrimination. However, facing some degree of minor disregard due to a lack of fluency in language may not be easily accepted as a basis for a legal lawsuit. You may need to be willing to tolerate such minor inconveniences to some extent.
Let me provide another example. Suppose I work at this company, and let’s say there’s a need for a new entry-level employee within the department. Now, if we have Korean immigrants, Vietnamese immigrants, and Mongolian immigrants, and assuming that the qualifications of the Korean, Vietnamese and Mongolian immigrants are equally impressive, whom do you think the recommender, in this case, would be more inclined to recommend? Would it be someone like me, another Korean, or perhaps someone who attended the same university as me, a fellow alumnus from the same high school, or even someone from my hometown? Isn’t it relatively natural for human psychology to lean in that direction? Understanding these human dynamics, one might have to accept some minor disadvantages. Just as the saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together.” While legal action should be taken in cases of clear discrimination, it’s also important to acknowledge the presence of such natural inclinations when dealing with immigrants.
So, there are two possible approaches. First, when qualifications are similar, you may need to accept some disadvantages. Second, to surpass such obstacles, you should strive to improve your own skills. If you find yourself lacking in language proficiency, you can compensate by being exceptionally friendly and helpful, which can also earn you points.
Indeed, if you can’t communicate effectively, aren’t friendly, and lack skills, you may find yourself falling behind in a competitive environment. If being friendly doesn’t come naturally, then it’s essential to work on improving your skills. If skill enhancement is challenging, then being kind, smiling, and having a positive attitude while being receptive to tasks and responsibilities can be a viable approach. If none of these options are appealing, there’s always the choice to return to Korea. Ultimately, the path forward depends on your own preferences and capabilities.”
“I can’t leave my husband behind.”
“You can take him to Korea. “Is your husband American?”
“So, should you take your husband to Korea to let him experience some discrimination? That way, he might understand your feelings of being discriminated against in the United States, don’t you think? (Laughter)
Expecting an immigrant to receive the same treatment as a local resident is somewhat unrealistic. Instead, it’s your children who are likely to avoid discrimination because they’ll be learning the language and assimilating into the culture from a young age. However, as an immigrant, it’s reasonable to accept that you may need to tolerate some disadvantages. It’s important to have a perspective that acknowledges that you might need to endure minor inconveniences rather than just seeking the benefits.”
After the conversation, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim concluded the lecture by sharing the perspective on practice one more time for the last questioner.
“People can sometimes express their true feelings, but there are also instances where their words and thoughts don’t align. You’ve all experienced moments when your thoughts and feelings diverge. But we can only truly understand others through their words. Going beyond words to truly connect with someone is a very challenging endeavor. Even understanding words properly can be difficult.
Express your mind lightly
When I was young, my mother used to say, “No matter how scary something is in this world, there is nothing scarier than not speaking up.” For example, when you lose something and it can’t be found, there are times like that. If that thing could speak, then we wouldn’t have situations where we can’t find it. When you call the name of an object and it answers with a “yes,” you can quickly find it. Similarly, when someone doesn’t speak, you can’t know what’s in their heart. Not speaking is a frightening thing. Even if you do speak, you can’t fully know the other person’s heart, but if you don’t speak, it becomes even more unknowable. In a relationship with a spouse who shares their life and thoughts with you, it’s important to express things lightly. It doesn’t mean saying something like, “I can’t live because of you.” Instead, it means expressing things lightly, like, “It’s a bit disappointing to hear you say that.
At times like that, you shouldn’t assume that the other person must unquestionably accept what you say. One of the significant reasons why people find it difficult to express what they want to say to others is because they operate under the assumption that “if I speak, you must accept it.” They hesitate to speak because they fear the other person won’t accept it. Whether or not the other person accepts my words is their freedom. Speaking is your freedom. You can speak lightly, and even if the other person doesn’t accept it, you can think, “Okay, that’s your freedom,” and this mindset can make it easier for you to speak.
I tend to speak relatively honestly because I believe it’s your freedom whether you accept my words or not. For instance, during Q&A sessions, do the people who ask me questions actually follow my advice? Well, not always. If I were to think, “They won’t follow what I say anyway, so why bother answering,” it would make me feel bad, and I might even become unwilling to respond. Asking is their freedom. Responding is my freedom. Whether or not to follow that response is also their freedom. Yet, we often interfere too much with other people’s freedom.
The reason for hesitating to make a request
If you need clothes while passing by a store, you can simply say to your husband, “I need this clothing, can you buy it for me?” However, the reason why people hesitate to say this is that they are concerned about being considerate. They keep looking for signs and hesitate, thinking, “What if he doesn’t agree?” When you make the request and he says, “No,” you can respond with “Alright.” If you still want it, you can try saying, “What if we buy it?” and if he says, “I said no,” you can reply with “Okay.” However, many people quickly become upset and say, “Fine, I will never ask you to buy something again.” In the end, who loses? It’s only you. This concludes the relationship between spouses deteriorates, you don’t get the item, and you lose the opportunity for future cooperation.
You should always keep the door of opportunity open in life. Even if your sibling steals money, it’s better not to cut off the relationship immediately but to keep the door open and live that way. Maintaining emotional openness even with people you dislike can broaden your human relationships. If you keep shutting the door, you may end up isolated and your life can become a prison. This isn’t something you do for the sake of the other person. When you always keep the door open, you become more free. I encourage you to try it once. It’s good for everyone. I hope you all live a little lighter and freer with this perspective.”
Tomorrow Ven. Pomnyun Sunim will go to New York LaGuardia Airport at 4 am and take a plane to Minneapolis and have a conversation with English interpretation for Americans.