In a world of multiplying discord, my lack of historical knowledge compounds my own confusion. Now, mystery is a wonderful thing. Digging for meaning within clouds of mystery is something to relish. (Like the never-ending mystery, What is the Divine?) But confusion is different from mystery.
As I keep exploring what it means on a daily basis to be cleaner than washed stones I realize that avoiding news of the world’s conflicts because I don’t understand them only makes my mind jumbled, making me even more uneasy.
I’m a woman in my fifties. It’s late to build a foundation of historical knowledge in order to gain understanding. But it’s my obligation as a member of the human enterprise to bring my own personal being to bear upon the circumstances I can affect. And by affect, I include understand, because where else would I want to start?
All the talk about global this and global that is primarily about corporate business, right? But what about being global in the sense of understanding?
So the other day I was digging into the basis of the conflicts in Africa. Why not start small? But seriously, I found something helpful. I read that one of the sources of ongoing conflict in regions such as the DRC is the trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 16th-19th centuries. As we know, one tribe would kidnap members of another tribe and sell them to traders. Tribe One reaped financial rewards that built their economy. But Tribe Two, the victim of the kidnappings, not only lost members of their community, they also did not reap any benefits of the trade. Not to oversimplify things, but apparently much of the ongoing brutal fighting in Africa to this day began in deep and understandable resentment over that betrayal and the painful economic imbalance of resources that resulted. (Dr. David Livingstone was an early proponent of the view that the fragile economies of Africa were harmed by the slave trade, and he worked to abolish it.)
Susan Sontag, in her book of essays on photography observed that when we see a photograph taken somewhere in the world (think of the famous Pulitzer-prize winning photograph of the naked girl running down a road in South Vietnam after a napalm attack), we think we understand. I keep this in mind, always, when I read the news. So when I say I want to “understand,” what I mean is, I want to listen and learn.