The Way of Recognition
The term recognition comes from the Latin re-cognoscere, and expresses the deep knowledge of something or someone. In Platonic language it would mean exposing the true knowledge of something.
Most of the time we think we know (cognoscere) the person in front of us because he possesses some characteristics that implicate a certain meaning, a meaning of course that has been socially constructed. We meet a person who is a Republican and immediately associate him with “ignorant, hates homosexuals and is probably extremely religious”. The same happens if we were republicans meeting a Democrat. Our idea of that person would probably be that of “a communist, pro-abortionist and just an overall immoral person”. We see a young man with dreadlocks singing with his guitar at a park and just assume he’s a “dirty man who probably barely takes showers and definitely smokes weed”. All of these preconceptions are expressions that unfortunately I’ve heard people say.
The reason we’d rather stick to our assumptions than approach our neighbor to find out if they meet our presuppositions is fear. We feel too comfortable to leave our safety zone and take the risk of approaching the other, to learn about him/her, to listen to his/her story, as indeed, all of us have stories to tell.
And here is one of those stories:
I was about fifteen years old when I got my first marriage proposal. Well, it wasn’t exactly what we would call a proposal but it was quite close to that. My family lived seven years in Central Asia and by the time I turned fifteen a neighbor family came to talk to my parents about arranging my marriage to their oldest son. Their offer: Some sheep.
To what my parents responded:
-“Well, where we come from, things are done in a different way, both, young men and young women, once they become adults, get to decide for themselves who they want to choose as a partner, of course they seek to have their parent’s approval, but it is their choice.”
As they were speaking, this couple seemed to look at them with wide open eyes full of intrigue. By the time my parents finished their statement, the asian couple’s oldest son, looked at them and asked: “What if I do that?, Would it be okay if I knew the girl I would marry and if I get to choose?”
-I don’t know. I guess there wouldn’t be a problem with that, if she’s a good girl I don’t see why that wouldn’t be possible.
Now, my parents knew arranged marriages were part of the culture there, but they still had an interest in hearing these people’s exposition on it. That is why they bravely asked them:
-Now, aren’t you afraid that your child will be unhappy with your choice? What if he doesn’t come to love her?
-Well, usually young people make mistakes when choosing a partner, but we parents love them and know what’s best for them. Love comes with time, that’s how it worked with us, our parents arranged our marriage, and as you see we’re still together.
“Wow” my mom thought. “If we westerns had this kind of mentality, imagine how lower the divorce rate in our countries would be. This sort of thought actually makes a lot of sense”.
What I like most about this story is the lesson we can learn from these two diverse families, who when being introduced to a new way of doing a same thing, didn’t respond with prejudice but rather with an open mentality, with an intention of understanding that other in front of them. What we can highlight here is their capacity to listen and recognize in each other, certain values, different than theirs, but values after all.
And that is precisely what it means to recognize your neighbor, that is, to see him as your morally equal. That, my friends, is true recognition, a deeper knowledge of that someone we thought we knew, but whose image we could only see as a blurry reflection.