Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: All you need understand

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

All you need understand

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

That wasn’t exactly what the Beatles said, but here's a question I've been thinking about: is it possible that understanding is larger than love?

There’s been a lot of news coverage this week around the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I heard a story about students at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Because it’s where Winston Churchill gave his 1946 speech in which he first used the term “Iron Curtain”the school has felt a special tie to the cold War. So, to mark this anniversary, a group of students decided to build a replica of the wall and then tear it down.

As one of the students cxplained, “I think it’s important that people my age and younger understand that the wall did exist.”

You heard a lot of that kind of thing this week, that attempt to make an experience live for those who weren’t there, and always with this underlying impulse to “make them understand.” At the heart is the feeling that if only you could have been there, you would truly understand. It’s the drive behind things as different as the Holocaust Museum and Sturbridge Village. It’s the difference between “you had to have been there” and “I felt as if I were there.”

And maybe that’s a big piece in the puzzle of can’t-we-all-just-get-along. If we understood we would, well, understand. We could find a common ground to stand together on.

Sorry, George, Paul, John and Ringo, but we really do need more than love. Love is wonderful, but it's a hit-or-miss sensation, passionate, visceral. Whether it’s there or not is a little out of our hands.

Understanding is cooler, cerebral. You can make a decision to understand. It’s open-hearted, but also deliberate. We can, if we try, make understanding happen. And so we build replica Berlin Walls and colonial New England towns and death-camp-bound boxcars. Just to give people the chance to experience what it might have felt like to be someone else, somewhere else. We can’t always love, but it’s possible that, if we tried, we could always understand.

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Blogger Mim said...

The impulse to forget often blurs understanding. How else explain why we learn so little from history?

November 10, 2009 at 12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is all good. And I've been thinking of those other walls, our contemporary ones in Jerusalem and along the Mexican-American border. The Great Wall of China is a tourist attraction now; seems a positive evolution. We can hope it won't take so long for our current walls to beccome curiosities.

November 13, 2009 at 3:49 PM  

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