Making a Prophet

Even as an atheist it’s hard not to think the authors of the Bible were on to something: “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.”

In Vienna this is no less true than in Jesus’ Jerusalem, or any other city for that matter, but there is another aspect – whether you’re a scientist, an artist or business person – having spent time elsewhere makes you more desirable back home.

The Bible quote seems to suggest the “new kid” effect: a new student at school is always mysterious and exciting. But it also suggests that you are “honoured as a prophet” almost anywhere else, which doesn’t seem to work today. While the exotic touch is key, we all know how certain countries feel about employing foreigners.

So maybe today’s phenomenon is more about people who leave home, travel, or work abroad, and then return home all the wiser. We hope they come back to grace us with new ideas and better the accepted ideas in research, art or business.

The quote also seems to refer to the fact that a person’s insights or predictions are taken seriously only in places where she is a stranger. While this is often true, in today’s globalised world it may be less about where you come from, and more about where you’ve been.

Today, it is perhaps the wisdom we gain from seeing home from the outside that gives us the ability to think about old ideas in new ways. Many émigrés have themselves become foreigners by the time they return home. So perhaps nothing has changed after all.

We can only be prophets in our own home, when it is no longer ours.


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