I’d always been extremely close with my grandfather. We both loved historical dramas and hole-in-the-wall eateries. As a successful self-starter in the post-war economy and the primary patriarch of my traditionally Japanese family, he had inspired me since I was a child.
By Ayaka Kimura ’18
The Speaking Game is an informal tradition between my grandfather and me. The rule is simple: Players exchange ideas on a certain topic by speaking one by one. We could talk about anything, from history to politics to Shakespeare, while respecting each other’s boundaries and opinions – until I found out he was racist, homophobic and misogynistic.
I’d always been extremely close with my grandfather. We both loved historical dramas and hole-in-the-wall eateries. As a successful self-starter in the post-war economy and the primary patriarch of my traditionally Japanese family, he had inspired me since I was a child. But as I grew older, I became aware of the generational gap between us, defined by our different worldviews and political standings – I had adopted mainstream American liberalism while he continued to stand by the traditional Japanese conservatism he had practiced his entire life.
As an idealist, I believed that principles alone would be enough to produce peace and settle discourse. I began to ice him out to protect my principles – How could I be an advocate of positive social reform while befriending those who questioned the legitimacy of the problem? He responded to my attitude by theorizing it as the peak of my teenage rebellion.
It took me missing him to realize I was projecting my own prejudices and preconceptions onto him. Amidst growing tensions between me and my family, I was overcome by the dreadful feeling that I was losing precious connections to my heritage and to the people who had stood by me since birth. So I decided to sit and talk.
The Speaking Game resumed the summer after junior year. The night I arrived in Japan, I unlocked all of my frustrations with him. Things got personal, and then things took an emotional turn. By the end of the night I was nearly disowned. I was disillusioned in my own attempt to assert my ideals and individuality.
But it was the next morning that led to my change in conscience. Tensions lingered from last night’s angry exchanges, but one thing was certain – our love for each other was unchanged. During the rest of the summer I learned the strength of familial love. Loving our families is something we do because, to a certain cultural extent, we have to. So what if we have to love humanity? As an idealist, I like to imagine a world where we can treat others with the same unquestioning love and tenderness we associate with our families; for humanity is a kind of “family” – we exist in a global community and thrive through our interconnectedness.
In a heated political climate, it’s easy to lose ourselves in the fire and fervor of ideological debate and forget that we are more than the politicians we support, or more than the posts we like on Facebook. While I recognize that there are certain views that jeopardize people’s safety and wellbeing, I encourage people to distinguish between hateful toxicity and the difference of opinions. We should strive to see people as human beings and not as the ideas that we project onto them.
In short, I found that our “game” is more than a petty pastime – it’s a conversation that has allowed me to recognize my grandfather and myself as two outspoken individuals who care for each other and for others, and revel in our mutual learning. He and I are manifestations of our time – products of our zeitgeist – and our views reflect the tides of history that have rocked our moral bearings. And he is more than his political beliefs; he is a man who’s devoted his latter years to educating and caring for his family, and will undoubtedly continue to do so for the rest of his life. Is he a bad man? Absolutely not.
While my grandfather and I still disagree on many fronts, it’s hopeful to know our conversations do not have a definite end. As long as humanity exchanges ideas and embraces empathy as a unifier, we will continue to learn and love on.
This story, originally published in the October 2017 issue of “Ka Punahou,” was edited for length for “Final Say.”