Where does your compass lead you?

Where is your compass – physical, mental, emotional, financial, moral – pointing?

Back in the late Nineties, I worked for a company that managed U.S government projects in developing counties to increase their agricultural output – promoting export-led growth in countries where agriculture represented, and still does, the largest portion of economic activity and gross domestic product. Products like the quinoa on your supermarket shelf; once a nutritious staple for Andean folks who now can’t afford it or can’t buy it.

The company’s logo was a crude plowing field shaped into its corporate initials. As it grew, a designer revamped the logo into a stylized compass rose, which combined the creativity of a Spirograph design and the Arab influences of a region that would later produce a company president and chief financial officer.

The compass, with a big letter C, had a curiously placed little triangle pointing up – North. In development, North always seemed better. Post-industrial. Modern. Developed. The South, a host of isms and a proverbial game of catching up or leap frogging. Oddly this north-south distinction applied within Western economies where North is industrial, faster paced, progressive. The South, agrarian, traditional and slower paced in language and thinking.

About the same time I had undertaken a spiritual exercise in the first decade of new century, I had a rare opportunity to view a world map compiled in 1602 by Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci. Displayed at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, the 400-year-old map was being shown publicly for the first time in North America after fetching a purchase price of USD1 million, the second highest price ever paid for a rare map.

Ricci’s map included pictures and annotations describing different regions of the world; Africa is noted to have the world’s highest mountain and longest river. North America mentions “humped oxen” or bison, wild horses and a region named “Ka-na-ta.” Ricci was the first Westerner to visit what is now Beijing in the late 1500s. Known for introducing Western science to China, Ricci created the map at the request of Emperor Wanli.

The map measured 12 feet by 5 feet and was printed on six rolls of rice paper.It showed Florida as “the Land of Flowers.” For the first time, China was placed at the center of the world map – thus displacing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from their primacy.

Later, after joining a global men’s organization championing integrity, accountability and self-awareness, I became acutely aware of the importance of the compass as each session of our group peer counseling began with the NEWS: a physical and verbal recounting of the multicultural importance of the cardinal points. In opposition to each other. East is East and West is West and never the twain…

And now in every man”s hero or warrior journey, does North-South axis represent highest and lowest points of journey and East-West the separation of the ordinary and special world of the journey?

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