If I had to choose a favorite 10 foot square of the world, this might be it. This is the reading room of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. It reminds me of what I learned in France. In the picture, I sit in a room surrounded by books. In life, I am surrounded by a variety of people. They come from different cultures, embrace different ideas, practice different religions. Each person has a story to tell. Too often people, including myself, make broad classifications and judgments about others without a full understanding of their story. We say things like "I don't trust Muslims" or "French people are pretentious," and accept these false conclusions without second thoughts. But truthfully, if we analyzed both statements and put effort towards widening our understanding, we would reconsider our positions. We would come to find that our mistrust of Muslims is really a mistrust of extremist movements, and that most Muslims do not support terrorism at all. We would discover that French people are not rude, they are just not as open with strangers.
The most important thing I learned in France is that knowledge leads to toleration. To know someone's story is to love them. The excerpt we read from Aslan's Cosmic Wars helped me deeply grasp this concept. Aslan described the Jihad movement and the life of the average Jihad member in a way that provoked sympathy and love for the young men who become terrorists. If you know someone's story, it is possible to love them, even suicide bombers. I hope that the next time I feel intolerant of someone or some people group, I will remember that my lack of love for that person stems from my lack of understanding. I hope that I will attempt to know their story and find toleration for them in my increased knowledge.
As a cosmopolitan, I want to be tolerant of all individuals and all people groups, near and far. This will only be possible if I am willing to put time into learning the stories of peoples and cultures. Once I get past my intolerance of others, I'll be able to open dialogue with people different from myself. Engaging with others leads to learning. So, the cosmopolitan process starts and ends with knowledge.
Looking again at the picture, it is obvious that the cosmopolitan life is not the easy choice. There are so many things to be learned. So many stories to read. It would be easier to live in ignorance and misunderstanding, self-interested and void of love for others. But this is not the life for which I've been called.
P.S. Thank you for all your work, Dr. Mills. The trip was incredible.