May You Teach in Interesting Times

May You Teach in Interesting Times August 24, 2019

As I have been gearing up to teach Global and Historical Studies courses again (China and the Islamic Middle East this semester and South Asian Civilizations the next), I’ve been reminded of the alleged Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” It was mentioned in an audiobook I was listening to about Confucius. It turns out that the saying is yet another apocryphal one that cannot be traced back to its supposed original source or context. But it is nonetheless interesting to reflect on the blessing/curse to teach in interesting times. In some ways, there is nothing more helpful to getting students engaged with a topic than for it to be in the news regularly, and that is certainly true of China, in particular Hong Kong, and also South Asia, with what has been happening in Kashmir. These are certainly interesting times in which to be teaching about these parts of the world.

But this blessing is also a curse. Keeping up with the news can be challenging, and one may go to class with a plan only to have students share breaking news. Of course, that can lead to positive things, at least potentially and in some instances. But it makes class “interesting” in all the senses that can be so thrilling and so disconcerting for a professor.

One way I hope to integrate this into the course is by having students work on a website that documents our interesting times, commenting on news items from North American media as well as seeking other perspectives both from and about China and the Middle East (and next semester, India and Pakistan).

What are you teaching or studying this semester? How if at all does it relate to the “interesting times” that we live in?

You can find an interesting treatment of the saying, where it occurs and what its possible precursors are in earlier literature, here:

May You Live In Interesting Times

And somewhat related to the saying:

Living (and Dying) in Interesting Times

Related to the Islam unit of my course, one of my favorite subtopics is Sufism, and so that makes it natural to share this post about Anna Clyne’s “Dance” Cello Concerto, which she shares was inspired by Sufism, and more specifically the poet Rumi:

NEW MUSIC TUESDAY | Composer Anna Clyne’s New ‘DANCE’ Cello Concerto [WORLD PREMIERE]

And for next semester:

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  • John MacDonald

    This business of “living in interesting times” as being a curse reminded me of the Greek proverb “Live Unnoticed,” so I googled the Greek Proverb and this is what came up:

    λάθε βιώσας
    Láthe biṓsas
    “Live hidden”
    An Epicurean phrase, because of his belief that politics troubles men and doesn’t allow them to reach inner peace. So Epicurus suggested that everybody should live “Hidden” far from cities, not even considering a political career. Cicero criticized this idea because, as a stoic, he had a completely different opinion of politics, but the sentiment is echoed by Ovid’s statement bene qui latuit bene vixit (“he has lived well who has stayed well hidden”, Tristia 3.4.25). Plutarch elaborated in his essay Is the Saying “Live in Obscurity” Right? (Εἰ καλῶς εἴρηται τὸ λάθε βιώσας) 1128c.

    I used to be very vocal at school staff meetings, and then spent days nervous and worrying about whether I offended or irritated anyone. Toward the end of my teaching career I just kept my mouth shut at staff meetings,, and it was an infinitely more pleasant experience for all concerned!