Tan Le: An Implacable Optimism

“It is okay to be an outsider, a recent arrival, new on the scene — and not just okay, but something to be thankful for  … because being an insider can so easily mean collapsing the horizons, can so easily mean accepting the presumptions of your province.”

Tan Le is an immigrant who, with her family, fled Vietnam to find a new life in Australia. Her remarkable rise to notability began after she completed her Bachelor’s degree in law and commerce. She became a social activist who spoke out about issues such as youth unemployment and education and the neglect of the underprivileged. The more forthright and outspoken she was, the more popular she became.

She co-founded SASme, a company that pioneered certain aspects of the emerging telecommunications industry in Australia and she was named Young Australian of the Year in 1998.

She eventually settled in the USA and went on to co-found Emotiv Lifescience a company that is pioneering a new computer interface that allows digital devices to respond directly to human thought, a bit like the aircraft that Clint Eastwood controls, just by thinking, in the movie Firefox. The company has designed a headset that can monitor brain activity and figure out what thoughts such as left, right, up and down look like within the brain. Such thoughts can then be used to drive mouse and/or keyboard functions.

It all sounds like science fiction, but she is a person who developed her own view of the concepts of possibility and impossibility through her life experiences. The video tells her very powerful and inspiring story which deals with much more than the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.  In particular, her closing comments about what kind of difficulties she would allow her own children to face, provided she knew they would come safely through, are a poignant reminder of how easy life has become for many people in the west.

In the boat that carried her away from Vietnam, she says, despite the apparently bleak outlook, there was “an energy there, an implacable optimism, a strange mixture of humility and daring.” That was what inspired her to trust her intuition and follow her hunches. That was what made her the person she became. She recognises that through those tough times, out of the crucible of suffering and deprivation, her basic character was shaped.

Tan speaks of her life as being something like a jigsaw puzzle but, as I listened to her speaking, I was reminded of the following poem by Benjamin Malachi Franklin that compares life to a tapestry:

The Weaver

My Life is but a weaving between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colors he worketh steadily.

Oft times He weaveth sorrow and I, in foolish pride,
forget He sees the upper, and I the under side.

Not til the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.

He knows, He loves, He cares, nothing this truth can dim.
He gives His very best to those who leave the choice with Him.

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