Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Vern Barnet flattered me in the opening lines of his Kansas City Star column today. (You can find the whole column on his web-site.)

Can you get inside of someone else’s head?

This question came to mind last week when I heard my brilliant young colleague in the ministry, Thom Belote, discuss Postmodernist doubts about the possibility of understanding one another.

Here is a ancient Taoist story that presents the issue.

Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu strolled to the bridge over the Hao River. Chuang Tzu remarked, "See how the minnows are darting about! That is the pleasure of fishes.”

“You not being a fish yourself, “ responded Hui Tzu, “how can you possibly know in what consists the pleasure of fishes?”

“And you not being I,” retorted Chuang Tzu, “how can you know that I do not know?”

“If I, not being you, cannot know what you know,” urged Hui Tzu, “it follows that you, not being a fish, cannot know in what consists the pleasure of fishes.”

Chuang Tzu replied, “You asked me how I knew in what consists the pleasure of fishes. I knew it from my own feelings on this bridge.”

Wendy Doniger, University of Chicago scholar, suggests that the bridge is a metaphor for those feelings that connect us to others as well as those that separate us from others. [...continue reading]

I meet monthly for lunch with a group of colleagues. We take turns giving presentations on topics related to ministry and scholarship. I had been asked to deliver a presentation on "post-modernism." The above column stemmed from my explanation (lifted from a book by Michael Berube) of competing theories of communication: Jurgen Habermas believes in the potential of consensus in communication whereas Jean-Francois Lyotard holds that differences are "incommensurable."

OK, so what is the big deal? Well, in our current culture with its partisanship, its culture wars, and its extreme dualism (not to mention our world where fundamentalism and democracy clash) what we believe and how we think about the possibility of dialogue and understanding matters quite a bit.