I’ve written before about one of the features that defines us as a species: our ability to categorise. It is fundamental to the way we think that we see patterns, correlations, and differences, and that we use what we see to group everything into categories. When we see correlations, we build bridges. When we see differences, we build barriers. Peace and plenty – the Kingdom, if you will, depends on our ability to build bridges.
In the news, US troops are leaving Iraq, South Korea is on high alert with the death of Kim Jong II, Afghanistan is looking more and more intractable, and – on a smaller scale – hard words are being exchanged between people of strong opinions over a billboard in Auckland, the grave of Christopher Hitchens, and the prayer at the start of the Wanganui District Council meetings.
I’ve been looking unsuccessfully for a Pearl Buck novel: The New Year. There’s a passage in there that – as I remember it – says what I’m reaching for. The book is about an American ex-serviceman who is standing for political office, his American wife, and the half-Korean war baby – now a teenager – he didn’t know existed. At one point the boy is grieving because he doesn’t fit anywhere – not in Korea, where he is a despised half-breed; not in the US where he is a stranger. And the American wife explains to him that he is a bridge. It is not that he doesn’t belong in both places, but that he stretches between both places, with foundations on each shore, and so allows those on either side to reach one another. It isn’t comfortable being a bridge; but without bridges we can only defend our entrenched positions and go on misunderstanding one another.