A Breath of (needed) Fresh Air

After months of being wary of the air that I breathe, I inhaled a breath of fresh air yesterday.  The rejuvenating experience came in the form of Speaking Peace & Seeking Reconciliation in a Fractured Culture, an online conversation with David Bailey and Marilyn McEntyre, sponsored by The Trinity Forum and Coracle.  David Bailey (12:00 ff) quoted an African proverb that gives a needed perspective in these unsettled and unsettling times:

 When I saw them far away, I thought they were demons

When they got closer, I thought they were animals

When they got close, I saw they were human

When they got face-to-face, I realized they are my brother and sister

That proverb reminded me of something I had read in Roger Scruton’s On Human Nature. There, he wrote of “the kind to which we belong”:    

We are the kind of thing that relates to members of its kind through

interpersonal attitudes and through the self-predication of its own mental

states. . . . To understand your emotions I must understand how you

conceptualize the world.  I cannot simply describe your behavior as though it

were a response to the-world-as-science-would-describe-it.[1]

Scruton pointed out that Milton used Genesis to create an allegory that was not only “a portrait of our kind,” but also “an invitation to kindness.”  That portrait, said Scruton, shows us as humans what we are and what we must aspire to be.  When people are deprived of religion, philosophy, and the “higher aims of art,” however, Scruton saw dire consequences:

Human nature, once something to live up to, becomes something to live down to instead.  Biological reductionism nurtures this “living down,” which is why people so readily fall for it.  It makes cynicism respectable and degeneracy chic.  It abolishes our kind—and with it our kindness.[2]


Amidst the divisions evident in our culture in recent days, it seems timely to take the advice offered in yesterday’s online conversation by Marilyn McEntyre.  She talked about how poetry introduces truth in subversive and surprising ways; it plows up the ground or soil of our language.  She recommended that we spend time listening to others, and “call each other’s attention to the very words we are using.”  (14:54 ff)

This is advice worth heeding, and now is not too early to begin.

[1] Roger Scruton, “Human Kind,” in On Human Nature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), p. 45.

[2] Scruton, pp. 48-49.

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