天高皇帝遠。Heaven is high, and the Emperor is far away. This phrase came about in China in the 14th century. Like most things during the period, it was related to the Mongols. The ruling Song Dynasty was conquered by Kublai Khan in 1260, and the Mongol Yuan dynasty ruled over China for the next 100 years. However, despite the removal of the ethnic Han rulers, life for most Chinese didn’t change. They lived, farmed, fucked, and died much the same as they had for centuries. Heaven was high, and the Emperor was far away.
What wisdom can we glean from this? I think Bill Burr put it very adroitly on the Conan O’Brien Show; did Barack Obama ever call you on the phone and ask you how you were doing? The reality for most Americans in the age of Trump is that things will not change dramatically because the leader has changed. Trump isn’t going to change the speed limits. Trump isn’t going to go build a factory near your house. Trump isn’t going to send an army to invade Los Angeles. Trump is not going to attend your funeral. Heaven is high, and the Emperor is far away.
Knowledge is useful, but wisdom is critical. That is the beauty of looking at the words of those who came before us and applying them to our current lives. If you woke up this morning, were healthy, had friends or family who loved you, had food to eat, your chances of meeting your maker today were very low. Heaven is high. If you woke up today, went to work, were able to cover your bills, didn’t get arrested and weren’t fighting off hordes of Mongols, then the impact of the government on your life was very low. The Emperor is far away.
This is not to say that we, as Americans, should not care about our government and be idle. This is not to say that there are not people suffering. But it is a call to keep calm and carry on. Because Heaven is high, and the Emperor is far away.
So the next time you’re hyperventilating because the news said that Trump signed another executive action, or that a Malaysian Airlines plane was lost over the Indian Ocean, put your anxiety into perspective. It serves no one to fret about things that you cannot control, and it serves less to worry that something that has little effect on your life is a clear and present danger. This is a mental tool, to remind yourself that the danger is not as present as it feels. You have the power to control your mindset. You have the power to affect the lives of others near and dear to you. If you’re still drawing air, and there are not brown shirts at your door, Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away. Because your friends and family are near, your community is near, and those are what can enrich your life more than heaven or the emperor.