A Best Picture for a Better World

AAPI Heritage Month Reflection: Chester Eng MGA23
Chester Eng smiles in front of a blurred, outdoor background

Observed annually each May, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and recognize their vast contributions to our nation’s history. The Fletcher School asked members of our community to reflect upon what the month means to them. Hear from Chester Eng MGA23 on Everything Everywhere All at Once and a new doctrine for international affairs: Waymondism.

As a newly minted graduate of The Fletcher School, I can credibly claim to possess deep and nuanced knowledge of the -isms (realism, liberalism, etc.) and the name-of-powerful-world-leader doctrines that define the theory, practice, and art of international affairs. I also sharpened my abilities to think critically, methodically, comprehensively, and boldly about global problems that require global solutions. I developed these tools with the help of Fletcher professors, staff, classmates, and friends, who challenged me to consider complex problems from different perspectives to envisage and formulate innovative solutions.

At a time when tolerance, mutual respect, kindness, empathy, and a shared understanding of our common humanity seem to continue to plummet and when outrage and cancellation are the default modes of social discourse, our lives inevitably feel even more complicated and confusing when we engage with borderless problems with potentially catastrophic international implications—climate change, humanitarian crises, migration, democratic backsliding, and large-scale armed conflict, to name a few—as we have at Fletcher. The reality we work with is often disheartening, leading to the frequent feeling that the more we know, the less we understand. So why not turn to fiction for inspiration and uplifting? Fortune favors the bold, and innovative solutions require innovative approaches, right?

Thus, with great eagerness to do my part to tackle the world’s pressing challenges, as well as to commemorate the start of AAPI Heritage Month, celebrate the increasing presence of AAPI stories in U.S. pop culture, and apply skills sharpened and lessons learned at Fletcher, I’d like to introduce Waymondism—or the Waymond Wang Doctrine, if you will—as an approach to international relations.

It’s a philosophy inspired by the character Waymond Wang in the Oscar-sweeping film (including Best Picture) Everything Everywhere All at Once (EEAAO), who believes that seeing the good in others and difficult situations is not an act of naivety but rather a strategic and necessary response to life’s challenges. Empathy, kindness, and love are the guiding principles of this approach. Instead of fighting fire with fire, Waymondism encourages restraint and awareness, seeking to grasp the motivations behind provocative actions and exploring avenues for de-escalation. With its focus on understanding and compassion, Waymondism, I believe, has potential to foster more substantive dialogue and fruitful cooperation in the face of increasingly complex global challenges. When we encounter the world’s worst and nothing else seems to work, a character who advocates for our planet’s best is an unlikely but still valuable source of inspiration.

Waymond does not merely say that he chooses to fight by deliberately seeing good—he shows the power of his philosophy to de-escalate conflict and foster understanding throughout EEAAO.

However, lest you confuse and conflate Waymondism with pacifism or Pollyannaism, I would like to note that Waymond uses his verse-jump-gained martial arts skills and his fanny pack to fight three IRS security guards early in the film physically. Clearly, even Waymond’s empathy, kindness, and love have their limits. A lesson we can take away from this choice of his in a moment with there is no clear correct decision is the importance of recognizing the necessity and strategic value of these traits on a spectrum of situations, ranging from everyday conflicts at home to existential crises at the frontline of interdimensional clashes.

At a small but still significant level, Waymond offers carrots (figuratively and perhaps literally) to his teenage daughter Joy when her mother (his wife) Evelyn uses sticks to teach their only child how to understand and navigate the confusions and frustrations of life, one that is even more muddled for a first-generation Chinese-American lesbian. By extending generosity and understanding towards both Joy and Evelyn whenever their differences escalate, Waymond eases familial tensions and promotes harmony in their otherwise cluttered apartment above the family laundromat.

When faced with a potential crisis that could threaten his and his family’s livelihood, Waymond empathetically handles differences with Deirdre Beaubeirdre, the capable yet cantankerous IRS auditor who threatens to seize the Wangs’ main source of income, their laundromat, if they do not properly account for business expenses. Through a sympathetic approach that appeals to Deirdre’s better angels, Waymond establishes common ground with her, transforming a likely ruinous standoff into an opportunity for cooperation and understanding. He peacefully resolves the climatic confrontation between a baseball bat-wielding Evelyn and a police-backed Deirdre during the laundromat’s Chinese New Year celebration by simply talking with Deirdre while Evelyn internally processes a lifetime of choices and events. Waymond’s intervention results in a beautiful exchange between Deirdre and Evelyn in which they bond over how they both have had to put in extra effort to get ahead. The bridges built between the Wangs and Deirdre empower both to more peacefully and productively pursue their aims by the film’s end; the Wangs are able to live their lives and run their business with greater peace of mind, and Deirdre is able to ensure that the Wangs pay their fair share of taxes.

Finally, and most impressively, Waymond resolves existential multi-versal conflict. When the multiverse teeters on the brink of all-out anarchy, Waymond delivers an impassioned plea about the necessity of kindness, urging all parties to the conflict to embrace kindness and compassion to counter destruction and chaos that will only confuse everyone even more. His words have the profound impact of inspiring actions that resolve an imminent interdimensional catastrophe in a manner that would move any sentient being to tears—to say the very least.

I would be naive to believe that we will live in a world where every international relations student studies Everything Everywhere All at Once alongside Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Kennan’s “Long Telegram” anytime soon—if ever. Still, my best judgment at this time makes me believe that the geopolitical application of Waymondism could, in fact, prevent the escalation of international conflicts and promote a more stable global order by helping leaders, policymakers, and practitioners around the world value cooperation and humanity above competition and brutality. Sometimes the most effective way to fight the battles of our world is with an open mind, a warm heart, and relentless determination to discern to see good strategically, whether in the marbled halls of ministries, the ivory tower of the academy, or the muddy trenches of the field.

Waymondism could guide the development of low-cost, high-impact, scalable, sustainable solutions applicable immediately, in the short term, and in the long term. It is both a means to an end and an end in and of itself. Substantial time, attention, and effort—none of which are in abundance when working on the world’s most complex and consequential challenges at any level—are necessary for the successful implementation of Waymondism, however, making it all the more exciting and challenging. As with any other strategic approach, the successful implementation of Waymondism requires a rigorous policymaking process, lots of patience, and even more persistence.

By giving Waymondism a chance, at the very least, we could well create more international affairs practitioners and academics who perceive and process a multiverse of crises with the grace of a person who has faced everything from messy differences that every family navigates to interdimensional battles that only a chosen few are well-equipped to resolve.

How far forward can Waymondism take us? In a present where hostilities arise more quickly than curiosities, walls are easier to build than bridges, and fists possess more power than open palms, this approach just might create an Oscar-worthy future.

Chester Eng is a recent Master in Global Affairs graduate focused on International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. He currently serves as a foreign affairs advisor to the international telehealth NGO Health Tech Without Borders. During his time at Fletcher, Chester served as an editor for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, a member of the Tufts Literacy Corps, and an Admissions Interviewer and Ambassador. Before Fletcher, he lived and worked in Kosovo, where he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, as well as in Washington, D.C. and New York City. He began his career as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Düsseldorf, Germany, earning his bachelor's degree in English literature and German studies at Bowdoin College. Chester seeks to apply his Fletcher education together with his diverse experiences in the public, private, and NGO sectors to continue to serve as an on-the-ground international practitioner.