Unprecedented lessons in an unprecedented time - Reflection by Canon Saro
Read Canon Saro's reflection for Thursday, 5 November 2020.
“Unprecedented”, is the word that we have heard quite often during the past 11 months of 2020. Talking from many experiences - most of them embarrassing situations - when you learn a new language, paying attention to weight of the words is as important as the meaning of them. Normally, the main cause of the problem is some particular use of a word in different languages or better to say different cultures. As a foreigner who has been living in the UK for just about 5 years, I cannot brag about my expertise in English culture. In fact, it is more a first impression rather than deep knowledge and just as a probably very stereotypical impression I can say: “English people like to stick to their own traditional ways”. Whether my impression is right or not, I feel the word “unprecedented” is an extremely heavy word in this country. Nowadays, it is used for justifying almost any kind of failure in governance. Apparently because we have never seen this situation, failure is inevitable.
I was born in the early years of a long war between Iran and Iraq and later in my life I saw another war (it is not so uncommon in the middle east), two big earthquakes, one coup, one big economic collapse, at least four uprising following by bloody suppressions, unwilling immigration and many other unprecedented things and still I am -or at least consider myself- a young person. So maybe what is unprecedented in a western country, for Iranians is the normality of life. For us, this word is usually used to address a great success or a big achievement.
Noticing the different cultural weights of a simple word, make me think about our true understanding of events in different places and times; events which have been explained to us through the words which have been translated for us. How much of truth has been lost in translation? How much accuracy in translation is required to receive the true spirit of an event? And what is the accuracy of translation? Or more importantly, what is the truth? It is better to stop here.
In one of the most significant moments of the history of Christianity, in spite of the presence of people with many different languages, interpretation did not seem to be a problem at all. Neither meaning nor cultural weight of the words made a problem at the day of Pentecost.
Act 2 reminds me of my job in a powerplant where I had to communicate to people from very different countries. There was an engineer from Turkey who could not speak English and I could not speak Turkish but somehow, we managed to form a great professional relationship which eventually turned to a strong friendship. I suppose there was something more crucial than words which worked for us. In that particular case, it probably was both sides’ commitment to comply with technical specifications of the job.
It is so easy to find differences. Even without misinterpretation of incidents or ignorance of cultural weight of the words, it is so easy to find our own personal reasons for hatred and bitterness; but I believe whenever a strong reason for reunion comes across, all of these seemingly legitimate reasons can be put aside; like the Pentecost day at which different weights and meanings of words were not important any more.
An unprecedented time can be one of those strong reasons of reunion; spending time with our family members, taking care of vulnerable members of society, expressing our gratitude to NHS staffs and key workers, finding new ways to do our works and maybe reprioritizing our whole life were some of the precious experiences that we gained during the recent period of lock-down. Unprecedented times can be a gift to do unprecedented good and acquire unprecedented knowledge and wisdom. Sometimes we think there are not much to do to help the situation but during the corona time we realized even some small actions like wearing a mask or keeping two metres distance from others can work like a domino chain in community and improve the situation gradually. We learnt all of these little things because of the unprecedented conditions; no matter what the cultural weight of the word or geographic place of the incident is, in England, Iran, China or Brazil, same pattern of acting with social responsibility and considerate behavior works effectively and that is why the current difficult situation can be a cause of reunion and ignoring all of our cultural, religious, historical, economic and social contrasts for the sake of humanity.
[Saro is a Lay Canon of the Liverpool Cathedral Chapter, and a member of the ‘Sepas’ Farsi-speaking congregation that meets here.]
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