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|Writer's Desk: NCR's Web column|
|In this column, a member of the NCR staff or a contributor offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.|
|September 20, 2004||
Vol. 2, No. 21
Looking for elephants
Rita Larivee, SSA, NCR associate publisher
"If you always view the world through a microscope, you'll never see an elephant."
I heard this phrase a few weeks ago and was struck by its insightful simplicity. The context for the discussion dealt with conversations about politics, morality and religion, making the point that many issues tend to be debated in isolation of the larger picture.
Microscopes are good and necessary for our understanding of things. Whether we are studying biology or the universe, the ability to look closely at an entity or even a thought is essential for comprehending the intricacies of the world and of life.
But have we relied too much on the microscopic view? Is it possible we are missing a reality that we do not even know is there? These are the questions I have been asking myself.
As I listen to TV and radio talk shows and other sources of information, I have become aware of the endless focus on the minutiae of events and activities. Broad principles and values seem to have slipped away. We use philosophical words repeatedly, but they seem more a diversionary ploy than a stepping back to look at the bigger issues at hand.
I suppose it's the same as not seeing the forest because we are too busy looking at the trees.
I remember as a student many years ago how we would study the standards holding up a civilization and the principles that formed the pillars of our existence. Every issue or action would be stretched across the fields of philosophical, scientific, sociological, cultural, and theological thought and measured against the wisdom of the ages. We were encouraged to look at the bigger implications of decisions and to project as far as we could the ramifications and effects.
I often think about the issues facing American Catholicism and continue to remind myself that American Catholicism is not global Catholicism. This isn't bad, just microscopic in nature. I interpret the Middle East through American eyes and Isalm with American, as well as Catholic, views. This too is not bad, just microscopic in nature.
But if we could step back so as to see the world through a macroscope, what would we see? Is it possible we have yet to perceive many of the truths of creation and the human family?
Plato referred to the same dynamics when he spoke of the shadows in the cave being mistaken for the world outside the entranceway.
Viewing the world through a microscope and missing the elephant is not a new thought, but its implications may be more timely that ever. Perhaps there are elephants all around just waiting to be seen.
Rita Larivee is NCR associate publisher. She can be reached at email@example.com
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