Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Limited Vocabulary

The model A Ford was designed to be massed produced. Years ago I heard a story that Henry Ford actually designed the car so that the shipping crate for the engine could be used as floorboards.  It was clever, saved money and ultimately helped the automobile become a widely common piece of new technology.

We’ve come a long way since then.  Features that are commonplace for their universality are really quite amazing when they are actually considered for a moment—instead of being taken for granted. 

Features that once were powered by human power are now powered by electricity and the flick of a button.  Windows don’t need to be rolled down by spinning a knob, just push a button.  Same goes for locks, don’t lean over to pull it up by hand.  Push a button.  Tilt, cruise control, windshield wipers, side view mirrors.  They are all so convenient.  I just found out that some cars can be opened and started with a remote.  But they don’t even have buttons to be pushed, they need only to be in one’s pocket as they get near the car. 

There are so many features that are useful.  There are also the myriad features that are convenient but fall in the bells-and-whistles category.  Multi-touch-screen DVD players for the children in the back seats, fancy sound systems and stereos.  It is amazing how much people spend on their vehicles and the conveniences they may afford considering how little time they spend in them.  The average American spends an hour and a half in their car per day.  Not that long really.

I once worked with a man, a talented goldsmith who spoke with an accent.  He was born in Hungary, raised in Argentina, lived in Brazil and then settled in the United States.  He speaks three languages fluently and is an intelligent man.  But he has an accent.

Because he has an accent people often assume that he doesn’t understand them when they speak to him.  Or they assume he is less intelligent than they.  Both are silly but common notions.

Language can be a barrier that gives the impression of stupidity.  If someone cannot be understood then they are not intelligent.  A Russian surgeon living in Portugal is not intelligent because he speaks Portuguese haltingly.  Actual knowledge is irrelevant.

On the other hand, one who knows the lingo can pretend intelligence.  Others will believe him, if he talks the talk.

What good is knowing something if it cannot be expressed?

Why suffer from the illusion of stupidity if simply learning new vocabulary or an accent is all that it takes?  Because it is hard.

But what if it weren’t hard?

The automobile has been around for a century.  Why does it have such a poor vocabulary?  It has only mastered a handful of expressions.  Left, right.  Stop, emergency.  Those are things the lights say. Four.  Make it five when including flashing the hi-beams.  Then with the horn a vehicle may yelp or yell.  It’s the same sound, just varying duration.

The car can’t say enough.  And poor communication means frustration.  And road rage.  Why not give the car a little more to work with, why not allow articulation?

In an age where drivers can do so much inside their cars (too much perhaps), why not increase their ability to do more on the outside, to communicate?  Why has our society spent so little time on developing what we can say to other drivers?  If our ability to communicate were improved, it would do us a lot of good good.  I image there would be less frustration and road rage.  But maybe not.  Maybe having a multi-station-individual-screen-surround-sound-entertainment-system really is more important.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


The area was large but cleverly constructed.  The spacing directed the travelers to a deliberate focal point.  Moving to that point it was clear that further progress was dependant on passing through one of many doors.  There were perhaps two dozen in all.  Each had a distinct color.  The styles were similar though there were subtle differences. 

There were various people approaching the doors.  They all approached and took for granted that they should go through one of the many doors.  To the casual onlooker their choice of door seemed arbitrary. 

Some would walk to the door their choice and, with an air of entitlement, reach for the knob and pull.  That type was consistently surprised when the door would not yield.  They would step back and examine their surroundings as if for the first time.  They would observe the large sign directing them to knock. Indignant they would knock.  They would knock a second time, immediately, with no pause to allow the person on the other side to respond. 

One of these impatient knockers noticed that the door next to her was opened for another knocker very quickly.  She moved over, ignoring the others that had begun to form an informal line.  She rapidfire knocked again. Not waiting but an instant began to pound two fisted on the door and shouting her demand to be admitted. She threw her arms into the air and kicked the door which then opened. Turning to those behind her that she now noticed for the first time she haughtily pointed with her thumb, shrugging and rolling her eyes before walking through.  The door closed behind her.

At another door a guest approached and knocked.   His fist fell in three heavy and steady knocks.  He lowered his arm to his side and waited patiently.  The door did not open.  He waited a full minute before again knocking.  A second minute passed and he knocked again whereupon the door opened and he was admitted.

One man knocked immediately as he arrived at the door of his choice.  Then noticing a doorbell gave two rings in succession that chased on the heels of his knock.  The door opened after half a moment. He smiled walking through.

The place had no shortage of new entrants of every variety and walk of life.  Tucked away on the far wall was a man standing watching events.  He had stood there for some while observing before noticing that he was not alone.

With a casual glance to his side he saw a woman. She was also observing those that arrived and passed through the doors.
“Oh. I didn’t see you there.  You work here?”
“I’m just standing here.  Do I look like I’m working?”

“Well you’re not going through a door.  I was just wondering.  You don’t look like the rest of them.”

“I guess you could say that I’m working here.  I make sure things run smoothly.”

“What exactly is happening?” he asked.

She eyed him for a moment then answered.  “This is a test.  Of sorts.”

“What kind of test?  It just looks like people who are trying to go places.”


He couldn’t tell if she were telling him to be patient or if that was her answer.  He decided not to say anything.

“Look, you should recognize him, he was here not long ago,” she said pointing.

A man was moving toward the doors.  He did look familiar.  He had gone through the dark green door. This time he approached a door further down.  This one was a light blue door.

“Here again?  Why?”

“It’s a test—for patience.  Everybody comes here many times in succession.  They only vaguely recall the prior visit.  He’s doing well.” The man being observed and discussed knocked on the door he had chosen.  He was completely unaware he was being watched.

“Everybody comes here to test for patience.  It’s the first of a few tests to determine a final location.”

“So they’re all dead. And this is what determines whether they go to heaven of hell?” he asked.

“Sort of.  There are more destinations that just those two. Those who fail this test will end up in a place that you would call hell, though there are many different degrees of variance.”

“Why is this the first test? Is patience really that important?”

“We’ve learned over time that if they can’t pass this test they will invariably fail the others.  By doing this one first we cut down of wasted time in the other tests.”
“I always thought that life was the test.  You’re telling me that the testing happens after life is over?”

“Your belief is common: life is a test, some sort of a proving ground to earn a reward.  Another belief is that there is no test and life is a time to create one’s own reward.  That’s not the case, either.  There’s more to existance than fits between birth and death. Mostly what happens after.  Life is just a preparation.  It’s there that people prepare for the test.  It’s a sort of training exercise.”  She pointed to the same man again.

He approached another door and knocked.  The two onlookers watched as he knocked and waited.  He knocked five times before the door opened.  Each time after he knocked he waited for some time.

“So if I understand correctly they are all judged by how long they wait between knocking and how often they switch doors and all that.”

“That’s right.  Every other virtue is built on a foundation of patience.  Name a virtue that you can gain without first developing patience.”

“So that’s where everybody starts then.  So why are you telling me all of this?  Doesn’t this make it unfair for when I take the test myself?”  A look came over the man as an idea entered his mind.  “Or I could tell them, especially the ones who are doing poorly.  There was a very impatient woman I watched earlier.  I’m going to talk to her.  I’ll tell her what’s going on.  I could save her from misery, right?  If she passes this test she’ll do better than hell, or whatever you call the place where the ones go who fail this test.  Even if she fails the next tests I can help her at least a little.  You wouldn’t stop me would you?”

“I won’t stop you.  But she wouldn’t believe you.  If she had the patience to actually listen.  As for your first question.  It won’t help you to know any of this.  You aren’t here to take this test.”

“I’m not? Then why am I here?”

“Because you already passed that test.  And this is another test.  I wanted to see if you would have compassion on those around you.  I wanted to see if you would give of what you had, even if it only amounts to knowledge.  It’s time for your next test.”

“Will I remember any of this in my next test?”

* * *
“Will I remember any of this in my next test?”  He looked around not recognizing where he was.  He wondered if he had asked his question out loud or only thought it.  Whatever he had done he wasn’t sure what it meant.  Where, he wondered, had that strange thought come from?

Someone tapped him on the shoulder.  It was a woman he didn’t recognize. She smiled at him and motioned for him to follow.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Another Blog

My friend Kylee has a blog about books. Take a looksie, it's got some good stuff.  If you stop on by you may also recognize one of her guest bloggers.


Sunday, April 10, 2011


As kids, whenever we got sunburnt, our mom would send us out to cut off a piece of the Aloe Vera plant.  It smelled gross and it was slimy.  But it was the best remedy.  She would remove the outer layer and then rub it over our bunt skin.  It always made us shiver, even in the summer.

“It draws out the heat,” she would always say.  That was a concept that I didn’t understand at the time.  Since then my paradigm had shifted and I see things in a way that it now makes sense.

Think of it this way.  Cold is empty and hot is full.  If you want something to be less hot you need to remove something.  And where would you put it?  Into something that has the space to receive it, something empty.  So if you put something cold next to something hot there will be a transfer.  The cold object will take as much as it can hold and then take no more.  Conversely to make something hot you must fill it up, with heat.

Listening can be understood in the same terms.  Those who talk have something they are trying to transfer.  They are full.  Listeners are the people have who made the space to receive.  They are empty.

Listeners have the ability to make space for what others want to say.  They let it fill them and in the process they heal, empathize, and sort out.  They can give feedback and act as a sounding board that will let others gain new perspective.

Some people never clear out the space within themselves to have the room to be an effective listener.  When they need to fain listening they effectively compress what fills them to make a small corner of space that they can fill.  But the act of squeezing creates high pressure and they can only listen for so long before they have to relieve the pressure by spewing back, often at the one they are supposed to be listening to.

I am saddened when I see those who never learn how to clear them selves out, never able to really listen for the sake of another person.  It is also sad to see how they use anyone who will give space to accept their offloading.  It is selfish and shortsighted and it doesn’t consider that sometimes it’s all right to let there be silence without having to fill it with noise.