Friday, December 19, 2008

Mark Twain et Moi

Mark Twain and I share a birthday (along with David Mamet, Dick Clark and Winston Churchill, G. Gordon Liddy, Shirley Chisholm, Abbie Hoffman and Jonathan Swift, to name a few). I was recently reminded of a favorite quote from Twain, which I wear emblazoned on a T-shirt featuring a map on the front and these sage words on the back:

"Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice, and narrow-mindedness"

The t-shirt stops there, but the entire quote reads as follows:

"Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

Truer words could not be said.

That latter sentence actually reminds me that Roman Catholic social teaching tells us that we have a moral obligation to participate in public life, i.e. to be active members of our civic community, to the extent that we are able. This might range from voting to volunteering, and from lobbying those who are in public office to running to serve as elected officials ourselves. It all boils down to loving our neighbors. If we seal ourselves off from our community or from fellow human beings, both nearby and far away, it's almost impossible to put that commandment into action.

That's a good New Year's resolution: not to vegetate in one's own little corner of the earth (or the town), and to try and develop broad, wholesome charitable views of our fellow man.

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