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A Universal Language

In the STAR TREK universe, there’s a very convenient device that is evidently implanted in the brains of everybody in a primary-colored jersey called “the universal translator.” This explains how everybody, from Klingons to Romulans to Gorns to weird shaped lava rock monsters all happen to speak 20th century English.

Truth is, there’s no such thing as a “universal translator”…yet…though I’m sure Bill Gates and everyone responsible for those self-driving cars and 3-D printers are working on it…and as a consequence, sometimes we “miss the target” when it comes to dealing with those of different languages, cultures, social and ethnic backgrounds.

This past Sunday I got a bit of a lesson in the importance of understanding different cultures, and why that understanding is so important. My fiancée and I attended a performance of “Shen Yun Performing Arts" at The Lyric ( in downtown Baltimore. Shen Yun ( is a consortium of Chinese “from around the world (who) came together with a mission to revive authentic Chinese culture.” Through song, music and dance, the artists of Shen Yun seek to resurrect the past 5,000 years of “divinely inspired culture” that has “been almost completely destroyed” during the past six decades of “atheist Communist rule” (to quote the colorful program, which was printed in both English and Chinese).

First, the history lesson. It is always the habit of totalitarian regimes to eliminate anything that might act as, at best, a distraction from, at worst, a contradiction to, the ideology espoused by the ruling party. Every dictatorial regime first takes credit for the nation’s past successes and, as power increases, begins to rewrite history, and in so doing, eliminates it. This way, a nation's past, present and future all bear a single stamp. For more insights, read George Orwell's 1984 (

As the audience was reminded by the program hosts many times, Shen Yun performances are welcome across the globe…but not in China.

The one thing that has changed drastically in recent years is a totalitarian regime’s ability to control communications. There’s a little something called “the internet” and with it, “social media,” that’s come to be a bit of a bother for iron-fisted political parties. By way of example, see Egypt and Libya.

Countries where there is no democracy, they act in ways opposed to the basics of public relations—to build relationships, to establish two-way communication, to be appreciative of the publics served, respectful of their needs.

One way to combat tyranny is through the arts—truly the universal language. That’s because no matter what your background may be, what language you speak, what traditions you recognize, everyone can connect to the beauty of human expression, whether it be a painting, a sculpture, or in Shen Yun’s case, music and dance.

And besides, watching young people, brilliantly costumed, adorned in silks, soaring through the air—what better way to express the concept of “freedom”?

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