“There is only one reality, and theories about witchcraft, like the germ theory of disease, are attempts to understand that one reality.”
In his intriguing book called Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, Kwame Anthony Appiah wonders how it is that people who come from such such varied backgrounds around the world are ever going to be able to live together. But then, he makes a very astute observation. There is a profound difference between “facts” and “values”. While science offers us a way to get at what is real, it doesnt do much for us when it comes to what we value, and why we value it.
Appiah acknowledges that truth is more than fact. And he poses the question: Is it more important to agree, or to understand?
When Jesus told his disciples that he must be delivered over to human hands, killed, and after three days rise … St. Mark tells us: “They did not understand …” (Mark 9:30-32.) Knowing it was going to happen – and even knowing that it had happened – is not the same as the value placed on the event itself.
Do you know the truth? Wonderful! Are you certain of it? Excellent! But when it comes to relationships with other people, maybe it is more important for you to understand the truth as they see it rather than convince them of the truth as you believe it, or even know it to be.
“Dr Appiah’s book is categorised as Philosophy, but it is packed with empirical examples as well as anecdotes and personal experiences: he was born in Ghana but has lived in the UK and USA, giving him a wealth of stories of ‘difference’ to share. At a time when globalisation is making the world seem smaller by diminishing the impact of physical space and time, cultures are rubbing against each other with increasing friction, culminating in the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments in western European states, amongst others. We must resist this reaction. Respect for human beings is crucial to social justice. Time to start watching those foreign-language films.”