Communication is at the roots of understanding
Last week I watched a documentary about trees. It blew my mind. I learned that the root systems of trees communicate with one another and share vital nutrients and even essential information.
A tree can even pass along something like memories to help other trees when a forest is facing some kind of challenge like high winds, or a fungus or an unwanted beetle.
I live in New York City and I work in the field of entertainment. Many of our projects have Chinese partners but, due to the pandemic, we’ve not been able to meet face-to-face since January 2020.
Having frequent and direct contact with our partners has been a cornerstone of our cooperation with China for the past decade.
As everyone knows, without regular meetings and dinners, it’s easy for companies, friends and even family members to drift apart.
Fortunately, there is a strong root system that allows me to communicate with everyone I am close to in China, and this root system has kept our relationships strong despite the challenges of COVID-19 and the ever-shifting political winds between our two great nations. This root system is WeChat, and it’s become more than just a communication tool. It’s become a lifeline.
There is an informality about WeChat that allows folks to have candid, honest exchanges that aren’t always possible over e-mail, on the phone or via Zoom. WeChat carries with it an implied sense of closeness, as if every text or voice message comes with the preamble, “This is just you and me talking now, so please tell me what’s really going on.”
No other messaging software I’ve ever used has this type of ease and fluidity across one’s personal and professional life.
Share and share alike
By way of example, just last week I was on WeChat with a colleague in Shanghai.
We were texting about a new television co-production opportunity, and he mentioned that the lead character, a teenager who happens to be bi-racial, resonated with him as he and his siblings are bi-racial.
I shared with him that my wife and I will be having our first baby in August, and our daughter will also be bi-racial.
Our conversation grew more nuanced and personal as our experiences across different cultures dovetailed with our discussions about our TV project. When I looked back at the thread, and I saw how effortlessly and unself-consciously we had both opened up about both our lives, our work and our families, I was amazed. It’s hardly uncommon to have WeChat exchanges that simultaneously elevate a project and a friendship.
My wife is from Harbin, northeastern Heilongjiang Province, but she now lives in New York and is pursuing her MBA here.
Ever since the pandemic, we haven’t been able to visit her family, not even for the Chinese New Year as we had hoped to do last month.
Although we cannot sit across from her parents these days and talk, we are in almost constant communication with them on WeChat.
We share videos of us walking our dogs or making dumplings or jogging by the East River.And her mom sends us advice on what to eat (or not eat) during the pregnancy, or images of our Harbin family getting together for spicy hotpot.
In other words, the small moments of life are easily captured and shared in real time, and this creates a closeness that would otherwise simply not be possible.
WeChat supports the human-to-human connections that are vital to sustaining meaningful relationships between China and those of us who love China.
Our two countries are like forests on opposite sides of the Earth, and though we may have our own unique histories and political systems, I believe our differences are not really so great. At the deepest levels, our root systems are forever intertwined in the common ground of our shared goals and humanity.
Josh Selig is the founder and president of China Bridge Content, a company committed to building strong creative and business ties between China and the world in the media sector.