Updated: Jul 31, 2020
At a math camp this summer, I realized that any challenge can be tackled if people come together from across barriers of culture and competition. It’s a lesson I wish leaders in America and China would learn to apply, for, as Mr. Rubin says, some of today’s global issues are “threats to life on earth as we know it.”
None of the math problems I confronted during the camp were life and death issues. But on the eve of a notoriously difficult test, our teacher raised the stakes. He threw a postulate in our direction, and promised anyone who could prove it a free pass on the test.
In retrospect, it was a boon that all of us were left speechless at the seeming impossibility of the task. During that silence, any pretensions to superiority or ambitions to outcompete were stripped away, leaving only a humbled solidarity.
At last, someone blurted out a question that opened the floodgates to a barrage of ideas, building momentum toward a collaborative proof. Though we were from four different nationalities, we were all speaking the lingua franca of a shared purpose, and we cracked the proof together.
What I see in this article is a call for two of the world’s most powerful nations to start speaking this lingua franca. For, in climate change as in the nuclear threat, we face problems no one nation, however strong, can solve alone. In this sense, they are the great equalizer. Can the US and China let them be the great unifier, too?
***The essay was awarded honorable mention in the NYT summer reading contest. I wrote about my experience at the notoriously difficult NT3 class in AwesomeMath. Most importantly--post has been uploaded after deadline ended and awards were announced.
Website: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/23/learning/summer-reading-contest-winner-week-4-on-for-hong-kongs-youth-protests-are-a-matter-of-life-and-death.html ***
****First Draft**** Accidently choosing the hardest course in the whole camp, I was more than terrified by the test notice, and the angst that I might underperform preoccupied me as test day approached. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one having such thoughts, as everyone covertly glared at each other with wariness.
But my trepidations turned out to be unfounded, as what encountered me on test day was an enormous pile of scratch paper and tables stuck together. The teacher, in his playful voice, dared us to prove a postulate, cutting a deal that he would cancel the test for those who succeed.
When I opened the small sheet of the problem that our teacher gave us, to my surprise, I wasn’t the only one to be speechless. Alerted eyes gazed around the room, checking if anyone had the faintest idea to this enigma.
“Isn’t this a convoluted function?” someone blurted out, breaking the silence.
That flung open the floodgates to a barrage of ideas -- some more useful than others, but all contributing to the momentum toward a collaborative proof. Though we were from four different nationalities and spoke even more languages between us, we were united by our common desire to find a -- and to skip the test.
Luckily, we were able to triumph this common challenge. Yet, the world faces much more grave, large-scale conundrums that require more sophisticated and novel ideas. What I see in this article is a call for two of the world’s most powerful nations to take this same perspective in their relationship. In the two issues the article cites -- nuclear weapons and climate change -- America and China face common behemoths that render the competition between them moot, for they threaten the very existence of mankind.