How much do we know about anything?
Published 29/12/2015 | 00:00
I attend a German literature class at the Goethe Institute every week. On Thursday there were seven of us in the class plus the teacher. Something came up about an old German word for city trams and then someone in the class mentioned the Luas. There was a discussion as to whether its electric power came from the tracks or from overhead cabling.
I was gobsmacked. All in the class were certain that the power came from the tracks. I on the other hand objected and explained that the electric power came from the overhead cables. One of the women in the class was so certain that there were no overhead cables she was willing to lay a wager. She lay the wager and I covered it. The teacher turned on the magic Google and within a minute or two everyone was clear that the Luas was powered through overhead electric cabling.
The German Institute is in Fitzwilliam Square and everyone in the class most likely sees or crosses the Luas tracks every day. And to add to that, they are highly intelligent group of people, who are in touch with the world around them. How did they think people walked across the tracks if they were electrified? How had they simply not noticed the cabling? I was honestly mystified by them. In the end the wager was not accepted and it was agreed it would be given to the St Vincent de Paul. Some good came out of it all. And it was a few moments of fun.
Cycling home after the class I kept thinking of all the things we see and all those things we pass by every day and never even notice them. Earlier that day I noticed a street name 'Protestant Row', near Dublin's Camden Street. I have passed that laneway on many occasions over many years and never noticed its name before.
How much do we know about anything? We fall into little ruts and crawl around in that space for most of our lives. From time-to-time we break out, discover something new but it seems our default position is to live in the familiar and even in that space we all seem to miss so much.
When I was a young man I genuinely believed that the bigots were the Protestants and that a Catholic bigot was indeed an oxymoron. What complete stupidity. Over 40 years of priesthood I have learned bigotry is not an exclusive Protestant phenomenon. Not at all.
The bigotry, the hostility, the closed-mindedness I have seen among my 'own crowd' never ceases to baffle me. But it seems to be the way of the world. Look at the support Donald Trump has and how it is growing the more zany his comments are.
In many ways a generation that is now nearing retirement or has already retired has lived in a privileged time. The founding visionaries of the European Union were intent on opening borders, getting people to appreciate and understand the other, cajoling societies to realise that there are more ways than one to do something. And that too was some of the driving force of the Second Vatican Council-to open windows.
But it seems now there is a new fear enveloping us-build back walls, the 'other crowd' are all wrong. Maybe the clue to keeping walls away and windows wide open is for each one of us to keep our own eyes wide open and stay ever vigilant. Take nothing for granted, especially what is familiar. Make it a New Year's resolution?