Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Maps, Human Contact, and Truth

Dr. Ellis's story about becoming lost in Spain reminded me of the visit my mom and I made to France several years ago. Right before freshmen year of high school, my mom and I went to France, Spain and Monaco with my middle school French teacher and classmates. My mom bought several guides to France (of the "France for Dummies" variety) to make sure we got to see a bit of everything. On a free evening, my mom and few other chaperones decided that we simply could not miss the "mystical light display" praised in one of the guide books. Armed with a small map found in a brochure at our hotel, we set out at dark in the direction of the Sacre Coeur. We circled the lovely white church several times until we realized that "mystical light display" was actually only a few tiny light bulbs protruding from a brick sidewalk. We laughed and, in true tourist form, took pictures of ourselves sitting with the lights. We realized that the fun of the trip was as much the journey as it was the actual attraction.

On our way back to the hotel we got quite lost, even with our map. We stopped in a bakery to ask for directions, only to find that the bakers were not French but Indian. Between our broken French and their broken English (and with the help of a lot of wild arm movements), we managed to converse with them and tell them where we were from, what we were doing in Paris, and where we needed to go. They gave us free pastries (and directions) and asked us to take a picture with them so that we could send them a copy once we returned home. I suppose that we could have just hailed a taxi and arrived directly at out hotel, but it was much more fun getting to experience streets of Paris that we never would have visited otherwise and to become acquainted with individuals whose paths we would otherwise never have crossed. Experience and human contact made our small excursion memorable and significant. While we continue to laugh at the "mystical light display," it is the bakers that we remember vividly from that night and it is those men that made us see Paris as more than just the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower; they made us realize that Paris is made of people with humor and generosity just like that which we expect to give and receive in our own country.

Both Peter-Hans Kolvenbach and Epeli Hau'ofa note the necessity of human contact to the acquisition of truth. While Kolvenbach's piece, "The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education," focuses on the necessity of human contact to facilitate justice and create just-minded Christians, his underlying message is that human contact is necessary for all truth. People are social beings, and to live as one in Christ, Christians must make contact with people of all social and economic classes, of all races, nations, and faiths. Kolvenbach asserts that human contact will allow a just world to be achieved:

Solidarity is learned through 'contact'…When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change. Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection. (Kolvenbach 34)

Epeli Hau'ofa's book, Tales of the Tikongs, differs greatly in subject matter and form from Kolvenbach's address; however, he also asserts that truth is only possible through human contact. Through the distortions of truth and human relationships by the Tikongs and the foreigners, Hau'ofa stresses the importance of the interconnectedness of island people to the survival of both the individual and of traditions.

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