David Wen Riccardi-Zhu


I am:

  • Half-Chinese (上海), half-Italian (Napoli), raised mostly in New York City, where I still live.
  • A former student of philosophy, Infantry Assault Marine, and lawyer.
  • Currently giving software engineering a try.

I love:

  • My family and friends, nature, meditation, thinking, learning, reading, and writing.
  • Living purposefully and passionately.
  • Many forms of activity, preferably outdoors, including hiking, cycling, and swimming.


I spent much of my early years thinking that I'd been born in the wrong century. Today I feel very much that I belong in my time.

I believe an objective assessment of the state of the world would conclude that our species is headed towards disaster. There are many wrongs, and they are interconnected, but in my eyes the most fundamental issue is the health of our ecosystems: climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, pollution. If these problems are not addressed, resolving all the other great issues of our age will be for naught; in the best case we will reach utopia, then lose it.

The environmental challenges we face are often cast as technological issues. I don't believe that is the whole picture. The world we see today is the result not only of unsustainable technology, but of unsustainable values and worldviews. The latter are deeply rooted in our psyche, manifestations of our greatest fears: death and irrelevance.

For millennia, the world's religions sought to tame those fears, with promises of rebirth and reincarnation, the ever present observation of the heavens. For many, the advance of science has shattered those promises, or at least nailed a manifesto of doubts upon the chapel's doors. A spiritual void has emerged in society. We will die and be forgotten, buried under billions of years of history, and someday even the Sun will burst and char. The most objective evaluations of reality seem to only confirm our fears of insignificance.

And so it is that entire generations, fortunate to live without the worry of going hungry, are unhappy, lonely, and bored. Their ancestors sought peace for their children, they suffered, more than those alive today – but they had a goal. Now the suffering is less, at least in the day-to-day. But for the suffering that lingers – the difficulties that all humans must confront, sooner or later – go unanswered.

A great void lingers under everything. We try to fill it with possessions and distractions. We throw everything into the hole. Televisions, smartphones, cameras, wireless earphones, automobiles, air travel to exotic locations. Nevermind that these things cost something, are paid not only with time and work, but forests, oil spills, and smokestacks, the lives of animals, and the innocence of children. Nevermind that, as we dump our things into the void, the hole doesn't get shallower, but deeper. The shine on new things passes ever faster, what sparkled yesterday is gray today. So too happens with the forests, the blue skies and the wildflowers, the colorful birds. Everything is paved over by our desire for distraction and affirmation. Every day, the air is a little more polluted, the planet a little hotter, the web of life a little smaller.

The gray things break and take up space. They get trashed. The ever growing landfills monument our insurmountable discontent.

Meanwhile, masked by the lights of shopping centers, far above in the sky, the stars still sparkle. Somewhere the crickets still chirp, the birds still sing, wind and waterfalls serenade our souls. If only we could be happy with what was already here, with what already is. With ourselves and with each other, not running away from the questions, but living them, every day.

I hope that before my time is up I will be living in a more sustainable world, one that places value on conservation and community. In my dreams, that world is a happier world, or at the least a more fulfilled world, with the void made just a little smaller. I don't know whether such a dream is realizable. But I know that regardless of the odds of success, whether it is in a big or small role, the bulk of my work or something relegated to free time, I want to help nudge the world in that direction.

To do all that while living a mindful, examined life, conscious of the context of my experience, taking care to enjoy my time, and the world around me, the people I love – that is what helps to fill my void, that is what I regard as my mission.

Author: David Wen Riccardi-Zhu

Created: 2017-10-23 Mon 15:00