Two Phrases in Chinese that Hurts the Way Chinese Speakers Think

Chinese speakers, whether they are in Mainland China, Taiwan or even Chinese abroad who still speak the language in some form in their everyday lives, often use two phrases that are detrimental to their personal development. Those are “There is no way” (没办法) and “That’s the way it is” (就是这样).

Actually, such phrases are used all over the world but they have become such widely used in Chinese that they almost seems infectious in how commonly used they have become amongst Chinese speakers in speaking about or facing situations in their lives.

For example, when Chinese often talk about issues they are passionate about but yet feel they do not have the ability to change them such as their salary work, they often say “That’s the way it is, and I don’t think my boss will give me a raise.”

While that may be true in some circumstances, Chinese often tend to speak passively about such situations in that they feel the situation and circumstances are always in control of them instead of the other way around. They assume that the environment will change in their favor when the conditions arise instead of creating the conditions that would therefore create a new environment.

So when Chinese often tell me that they can’t get higher wages at their jobs or something along those lines I usually ask them if they have considered other options, such as creating such a strong reputation for themselves to the point that if they were to even hint at the thought of them quitting their boss would take any means necessary for them to stay. The answer is inevitably no, so I tell them they need to consider this and make a name for them that will stick out and offer value-added skills etc.

At this point, Chinese will often respond with an answer such as “There is still no way because even if I stay all night it doesn’t necessarily mean I will get a raise in pay.” True, but what about striving for more efficiency and offering more value through outside-the-box thinking? “Our education doesn’t focus on that and I don’t have time to engage in outside learning because of my workload and family responsibilities,” many Chinese reply.

Perhaps there really is no way in such scenarios but no matter who it is if there is a will then there is away, as cheesy as that is. This is an issue of mentality and being accustomed to certain behavior patterns that in actuality can otherwise be changed, as they reflect social conditioning.

The only reason things have come to be a certain way is because Chinese have allowed them to become that way, just like ant other society on earth. Likewise, if Chinese want something to change then they need to think about a holistic approach in facing a situation and see the change they want made rather than making excuses. While certain circumstances may be difficult, nothing is impossible and if everything was already set in stone in society then nothing you do would make a difference, I often tell Chinese friends. Hearing this, they often have a change of heart and begin to think otherwise. Remember, “That’s just the way it is” really only applies to gravity, oxygen and other natural phenomenon that occur in the universe with the rest being constructed in your mind, I added in such conversations.

Saying something like “There is no way” is the same as saying “I’m giving up.” In Chinese, I want to emphasize, however, that phrase actually doesn’t really carry such a heavy connotation when people say it but it seeps into their subconscious thinking and in my opinion, carries over into their everyday lives. Granted, peoples’ choices and actions can only be done on a small scale at times and there is no way for one single person to go in and change the face of government by any means, but there are many small steps Chinese can take in improving their lives or changing a situation if they ever so desire.

And that might be a huge reason why they think that way.

Chinese often say they aim for simple lives and want things to “just right” (刚刚好), in that they don’t feel like they need to go out and change the world and have this construed purpose in their lives that will somehow fulfill them. Rather, they find solace in stability and engaging in what they are familiar with rather than jumping into the unknown too much. This could be attributed to cultural differences in many ways, which arguably constructs such phrases in language. However, this does not mean it has to be the norm or that it can’t be thought of otherwise.

Everything constructed by humans in the world, that being social, political, and economic structures, are not set in stone in that they exempt ultimate truth. All such structures are relative and subjective because they are not bound to any fundamental laws of nature, and instead, are humans’ reflections of their capacity to interpret and create structure, largely for the well being of people in a given society. Chinese therefore have the capacity to re-think their positioning in their social structures as hard as that may sound and take means to change their lives rather than accepting their lives to be government by social norms set by others in society.

Realizing this, I tell many Chinese then it is better to say “That’s the way it is”, because they have sought out new methods to constantly react and create amongst an ever-changing environment thus eliminating the idea of “There is now way”, for there will always be a way granted it chosen to walk upon and explored. “That’s the way it is” therefore becomes the new standard for saying “Yep, I have the ability to change my situation and make a difference if chosen to do so, so then what do I have to complain or be fearful about?”

Perhaps though Chinese would rather choose to be more passive, which is totally fine, but for those who are stuck on moving forward I think changing one’s mentality is crucial and realizing its ability to do so in connection with language and behavior needs to be thought of more in depth.

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