12th Century Wisdom

I found this quotation recently on Andrew Sullivan’s blog from 12th century theologian-philosopher Hugo St. Victor:

The person who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign place. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong person has extended his love to all places; the perfect man extinguished his.

This came as a reassuring message to me, as I’ve always felt like something of a stranger in a strange land. I’m from Harrison, Arkansas, but not of it. I live in New York City but it’s just as foreign to me.

The same statement could be applied to race and religion. Race, place and religion are the primary causes of war. While I lament the homogenization of America, the loss of native languages and cultural practices, I realize that for everything we lose culturally, we gain peace.

What divides us is what defines us. As in my previous post, if I say, “I’m an Arkansan,” then that’s 49 implied statements about the states I’m not from[1]. Ideally, we should not give objective preference to any one place or race (or religion but that’s much harder to do); we should only recognize them as subjective preferences, personal to our life experiences. Pride of race, place or religion may help give people confidence and identity, but they lose a greater understanding of the world at large in the process.

1.) Plus all the lovely inferences and assumptions that come with making that statement.

3 thoughts on “12th Century Wisdom”

  1. I’ve always found it particularly strange to be proud of the place you happened to be born or, to a lesser extent, where you happen to live (unless you chose the place you live for its great features, which most people who are particularly patriotic about an area didn’t do (or, I suppose, if you built a town with your own hands)).

    This is why I don’t particularly understand team loyalties; it’s one thing when you’re supporting a small local team, you know everyone on the team, and you want them to win because you like them and care about their feelings, but it’s something else entirely when a corporation owns a team full of people who aren’t from the area (sometimes aren’t even from the same country), and who moves them from area to area at will.

    However, in describing myself I would say that I am a Southerner first and an American second. That’s only because I have been shaped by the particularities and culture of the area so much that I have nothing in common with, say, west coast Americans while having a great deal in common with Southerners. It’s not said with any particular pride. Though there’s nothing like my grandmother’s biscuits and gravy anywhere else in the world.

  2. Yeah, I wish regional identification and team loyalty were things people took less seriously than they do. Part of it is just groupthink and vicarious living, and that’s fine if it’s entertainment like a sporting or entertainment event, but not something on which to build your identity.

  3. Speaking of Andrew Sullivan & identity politics, I linked a blog post of his onto Facebook last night, and immediately received a response effectively saying, “He’s gay… I don’t want to hear his opinion”. The response came from a self-described conservative, who just assumed that because Andrew is gay, he can’t hold conservative views. It was ridiculous & sad.

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