Lionel Yang

Lionel Yang

Seeing Requires Faith

We interviewed Lionel Yang at the beginning of 2023 from his home on the Eco Island in Shanghai. Yang is the Founder and Dean of the School of Human Ecology. His years spent in London doing his doctorate followed by his return to Shanghai in 2021, has given him a rare and much needed vantage point on eastern and western forms of knowledge and ways of perceiving the world, and what it might mean to be authentically human.

Humans are taught to see through our senses and to think through reason as the default mode of engaging life in these so-called ‘modern days’. But perhaps human ‘seeing’ is more than reduction to empirical and analytical usefulness. The utilitarian mindset has dehumanised our existence and demoted our free will.

Seeing requires faith. One can see in delight of a whole or in the details; details that do not end in parts. There’s an intentional consciousness before things come to our senses. Humans are not just data processing machines. We live with the purpose to mature, and maturity requires faith, the ability to believe and flow in ambiguity and uncertainty in the world with others. Humans are not just looking and seeing in order to understand, but surrendering and arriving at grace and the capacity to grieve and forgive.

Human lives are filled with dramas and traumas. We rely on faith to forgive, forget and move on. Humans are not just a lousy version of AI. We are existential and enhanced in joy, and even in bad times, we can still choose to see the bad in self depreciating laughter, humility and salvation. Humans contemplate; thus seeing ought to be “holy”, in-through and true. And thus, seeing is beyond just looking at time and space; it is eternal.

The poet William Blake has a poem to contemplate on this human hermeneutics that I often go back to, to rest and retreat. Somehow, we don’t have to be “religious” to be faithful, it is simply to be authentic.

Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower, 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, 
And Eternity in an hour.
A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all Heaven in a rage.
A dove-house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions...
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain doth tear.
A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubin does cease to sing...
Every wolf’s and lion’s howl
Raises from Hell a Human soul.
The wild deer, wandering here and there, 
Keeps the Human soul from care. 
The Owl that calls upon the Night 
Speaks the Unbelievers fright…
A Truth that’s told with bad intent 
Beats all the lies you can invent. 
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the world we safely go…
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine;
Under every grief and pine 
Runs a joy with silken twine… 
He who respects the infant’s faith 
Triumphs over Hell and Death… 
The questioner, who sits so sly, 
Shall never know how to reply. 
He who replies to words of Doubt 
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out… 
He who doubts from what he sees 
Will ne’er believe, do what you please...
To be in a passion you good may do, 
But no good if a passion is in you… 
Some are born to sweet delight, 
Some are born to endless night. 
We are led to believe a lie 
When we see not thro’ the eye,..
William Blake
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