Investigating the “woo-woo” in Chinese and English


I love having a blog that I don’t know if anyone reads, because I can just write freely, but still be slightly restrained by an imaginary audience.

The North Stars of this Post

1. All writing Gods instruct us to keep writing.

2. All philosophers seem to have said the same shit differently, over and over again, in order to stumble upon glimpses of enlightenment.


Personally, I find the exercise of writing about woo woo concepts in both English and Chinese clarifying. In the beginning, this process would always confuse me, and sometimes, serendipitously, the process might unveil nuances. These nuances might occasionally converge, and then explain. Then, when the stars are aligned, the process might generate purpose, and ultimately prompt the desire for meaningful actions.

Here is one example- Ambiguity.

One of the Chinese phrases that could be used to describe ambiguity is 摸稜兩可. 摸稜 could mean “feeling the two slopes from an edge with your hands.” 兩可 means “both possible.”

woooooaaaaaahhhhhhhh.

I found this cool because the usefulness of ambiguity is the acceptance of its inevitability and usefulness, and then the desire to get better at harnessing it, so we can better explain shit in general.

In English, the word ambiguity is more neutral, while that Chinese phrase is a tad instructive. I like the subtle nudge that the Chinese phrase makes around the concept.

Now there are other Chinese words, such as 含糊 (contains muddlement), that can be used to describe ambiguity less ambiguously. The point I am trying to emphasise is the wonderful discoveries I have been able to find when I tried to understand different words in the two languages. Here are examples of such discoveries:

As a parent, I now have a more refined conviction to navigate ambiguity with my children. One of the worst mistakes I have made was the carelessness in not thinking through when to provide the absolutes and when to let confusion permeate. There were times my kid needed reassurance- Boundaries and rules, or in other words, clear flag poles of pitfalls that could risk them feeling of being loved conditionally. And then, there were times where they needed to figure it out- “My BFF made fun of me today! I will never be her friend!”

At work, the ability to flex ambiguity distinguishes great leaders from merely competent ones. For example, a great manager is one that could spot a talent, pluck her out of the ranks and hierarchy, navigate the complex politics and bureaucracies, flex the situation, and help her become an integral part of the team’s success.

” I think we should give Anne the project.”

” What? She isn’t even a manager!” ” But I am not ready for this at all!” “What has she done to get this role? What a suck-up!”

Finally, this exercise of rinsing words with the two languages gave me confidence- Not only did the Chinese phrase, 摸稜兩可 (feel the two slopes from an edge, because both are possible), nudged me to explore the possibilities within ambiguity, it also convinced me that this understanding of ambiguity wasn’t something too far-fetched since it has been said thousands of years ago.

“Say the same shit differently, over and over again, in order to stumble upon glimpses of enlightenment.”