For all his significant weaknesses and flaws as a candidate, Tim Kaine has this impressive detail on his resume: he spent a year as Jesuit Volunteer in Honduras after college.
I envy that choice, and wish I had had the maturity and sense of mission to do something like that when I was in my 20s. But I was selfish and eager to get on with my career. It’s something I’ll always regret.
Now, Brendan Busse at The Jesuit Post has offered some thoughts, from his own life, on what that experience can give a person:
What does it mean that a candidate for the Vice Presidency of the United States took a year away from Harvard Law to teach welding and carpentry in a Jesuit mission in Honduras? I think it means a lot more than, “he speaks Spanish.” Senator Kaine can (and will) answer for himself — but here are a few of my own thoughts based on how my two years as a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize affected me, and might impact someone in Kaine’s position.
- You get used to being surprised. During my time in Belize I found myself regularly surprised by a different way of seeing things, by a different set of cultural priorities. Ketchup on rice and beans? Surprisingly delicious. Trust me. At the end of two years I continued to discover new things, but I was no longer surprised at my being surprised. In a diverse political landscape, this openness to newness and difference — this ability to thrive in surprising circumstances — could be a real asset.
- You realize that people very different from you can teach you a lot about yourself. Volunteers realize that their way of seeing and experiencing the world is not the only way and, at times, may not be the best way. In our current political climate, any hint of disagreement blinds us to even recognize an opponent as a human worthy of respectful dialogue and personal compromise. In this climate, it would be hard to underestimate how important humility can be.
- You learn how to take the view from below. The people who live ‘below us’ economically, socially, and geographically see the world very differently from us. Their vision is authentic and authoritative if we are to fully understand the problems we face. To study at Harvard Law (one of the most privileged places in the world) and to defer your studies in order to teach welding in a vocational school in Honduras (one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world) clearly demonstrates a preferential option for the poor. Understanding this might help us to think and speak more meaningfully about the influence of Sen. Kaine’s Catholic faith on his political decisions.