Sunday, December 2, 2018

The privilege of having words

Terry Border: Bent Objects 

You'd imagine that the word is something we all have, in this day and age of widespread literacy.

Our curriculum expects it from us. It is a foundation we have to master before we can build our castles of knowledge on top of it. I suppose I've always surrounded myself with people who have splendid handling of the written and spoken word - in all languages that they are proficient in.

I've pursued art and music like a new language. The grammar become brushstrokes and mediums, the vocabulary in motifs and keys. However, like any new language, it doesn't just change the way you sound and write on paper, it restructures your thinking. Anthropologists and social linguistics have spilled ink extensively on the subject. However, we don't understand the practical implications for someone who doesn't think in the written word. We are tourists in the minds of those who do not hold ideas and thoughts the same way we do.

We look at a painting or listen to a piece of impenetrable music and ask what is the artist/musician trying to tell us? They might as well come from another planet and speak to us in Martian.

Side note, do watch The Arrival if you haven't caught it, about how language changes how we conceive time and space.

What is the point of writing all of this?

I believe we need to expand our appreciation of other individuals who think differently from us. Like linguists, we should embrace the system of other formats of "languages" that may not immediately be immediately apparent to us.

As someone who has taken the written word for granted, I've recently met someone who have taught me to be patient that the written word may not always be immediately available to them. It's like asking me to run 46km, when I've barely ran 4.6km in my life. Compassion for those who think differently from me. To learn to express myself in more ways than just text, or to understand someone's intention from a hug or through their doodles.

I've gained a new found appreciation for ways of expression - the spaces in between words. The pauses in between phrases. Communication is beyond just what we say, but how we say it. It is sculptural and spatial, it is the foreshortening in a painting to give the illusion of depth in a two dimensional painting. Words draw images in our mind, but our minds have always imagined before we had the words to express them. Previously in my work as a teacher, I've always thought that students who did not have the words to express their ideas, was a product of the lack in our education system. However, recently I'm considering that perhaps the real lack in our education system is the deficiency in our imagination to conceive beyond the written word.

As a result, for those who do not think the same way, face profound difficulties in how they interact with others. If we do not insist that someone from Japan speaks fluent English, then we similarly cannot insist that someone communicates with us on our terms. I believe communication can happen in more than one dimension and we must embrace all of them to have a more understanding and sympathetic society. It's like watching the world in black and white transfer into a field of high-definition virtual reality. It becomes much more interesting and much more exciting to live in.

Lest our understanding be stunted, I'm re-imagining how we approach the ways we communicate with someone.

Sometimes, a big hug echoes in the heart louder than any word.