Monday, 3 January 2011

Have we lost the sense to really meet?

I was reading an interview yesterday with two artists from the west Highlands, the only UK representatives at an international event held in the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia last summer. Vicky Stonebridge, from Lochcarron, and Lynn Bennett-Mackenzie, from Gairloch, were invited to exhibit their work in the city of Yelabuga - a place populated by a mixture of Orthodox Russians and Muslim Tatars, who have lived and worked together in harmony for hundreds of years. The artists recalled that the Russian peoples’ initial reserve to them on arrival was skin deep only, immediately behind it was incredible warmth, openness and hospitality.

Reading about the travels of these two artists made me think about the way in which simple face-to-face encounters help to break down so many barriers. In a world where we Facebook to tweet, I wonder whether real life encounters actually help further our shared humanity in ways that reading and virtually imagining does not. I'm a great believer in traveling as often as one can in order to see for yourself what a different world looks like, allowing us to challenge ourselves to something new. Yet, I'm also aware of the current debates by religion scholars who are discussing the emergence of virtual religion. But, I'm yet to be convinced against the power of human beings interacting with one another in their search for meaning to life.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has misread an email or a text which has spiraled into something of a virtual battle only for it to diminish to nothing when you actually meet the person. Maybe a better example is Hilary Clinton who recently met the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and quite warmly shook hands with him at a time of tension between the two countries.

The Qur'an states quite clearly that humankind has been created into nations and tribes in order for them to know each other. I take quite a lot from this passage of the Qur'an which endorses human diversity as a means of learning and knowing differences. Maybe the good ol' fashioned way of talking to each other to express ourselves is something we all need to return to.