See The Verb [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Random fact of the day: my waking thought this morning was about The Geography of Thought. No kidding. It’s a terrific book by Richard Nisbett. The subtitle is “How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…And Why.” Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I must have been pondering the bumper sticker we recently saw: I’m With Earth.*

One of the points made in the book, the one that permeated my dream state, is that different languages place different emphasis on different parts of speech. For instance, many Asian languages place emphasis on the verb. English speakers place the emphasis on the noun. In listening to mothers talk to their infant children, an English speaker will say, “Look at the red truck! Do you see the red truck?” An Asian mother will say, “Look at the red truck go!” Do you see the red truck go?”

Why does it matter where the emphasis lands in a language structure? Noun or verb?

The language we use shapes our thinking and seeing. It shapes basic worldviews. Earth as a noun or earth as a verb. Earth as a stand-alone-thing or earth as a moving interrelationship. These are vastly different worldviews.

This was my thought/image coming out of sleep: earth and sky. In a noun world, earth and sky are two distinctly different things. In a verb world, earth and sky are not separate things, they are verbs, actions, interplay of a dynamic relationship. In a noun world, I am also a distinctly different thing. In a verb world, earth, sky and I are not separate things, we are a dynamic inseparable relationship. We.

The bumper sticker is a declaration: I am with earth. It makes perfect sense in a noun world because it is also possible, in a perceptual world of separate things, to be against earth. Nature needs to be conquered, tamed. In a noun world, earth, once tamed, is a resource and resources are meant to be used. In a noun world, we are capable of believing that our actions have no impact on our environment. Action and environment are nouns, separate things.

In a verb world, what you do to the earth is what you do to yourself. No separation. In a perceptual world of relationship, of verbs, it is understood that your actions not only have impacts, your actions are impacts.

We woke to the news of yet another mass shooting. This one in Colorado. As usual, we know that our community and leadership will offer thoughts and prayers but nothing really – not really- will be done to address it. In a noun world, we protect the rights of the individual, the separate thing. In a verb world, there are no mass shootings. None. Violence done to one is violence done to all. In fact, more people are gunned down in the United States in a day than are killed by gun violence in Japan in a decade. The differing linguistic emphasis extends to differing understanding of rights and responsibilities.

Language matters. Where we focus matters. What we emphasize matters. The story we tell is determined by the language we use to tell it. I am with earth. Or, I am earth. I go to worship. I am worship. I seek purpose. I am purpose. Separation. Relationship. A whole philosophy of living reduced to a simple bumper sticker.

So, when we ask complex questions like, “Why can’t we do anything about gun violence?” or, “How is it possible that people in a pandemic refuse to wear masks to protect each other,” our answer is really very simple: our language makes it so.

Perhaps in a world of nouns a declaration is the best we can do. It is a step toward the middle way, a declaration of responsibility to the commons. Black Lives Matter. #MeToo. Stop Asian Hate. I’m With Earth.

*The “I’m with Earth” sticker is from the very cool company Gurus

read Kerri’s blog post about I’M WITH EARTH

Say “Look” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Look” is the new “um.” It now lives among the tribe of words used as placeholders, thought-launching-pads, or mental-composition-vocables.

I had a professor that cleared his throat when composing his thoughts. That semester nearly killed me. I lost all contact with the content of his lectures in the cacophony of throat-clearing. I spent entire lectures either writhing in my seat or wondering what happened in his life to develop such an odd vocal tick. I’m certain Sarah Jessica Parker based her throat-clearing-character in The Family Stone on my professor. Each week I sat in the lecture hall and wondered if he was terrified when speaking in public or perhaps he was fearful of not expressing thoughts clearly. That odd-socks-thought-train sent me down a rabbit hole of pondering weird karma. It’s a wonder I passed his class (or any class, for that matter).

“Look” is significantly different than “um” or throat clearing. There’s a very important nuance to note: it assumes authority. It’s a directive. “Take note!” “Consider this!” It’s a placeholder with a purpose. It’s as if everyone on the public stage secretly doubts their credibility or must demonstrate their sway.

Perhaps it’s the cabin fever that comes with believing in the pandemic, perhaps it is the state of politics and pundits in these media-cleaved-united-states, but we’ve become fascinated by the ubiquitous “Look.” It regularly launches politician replies and reporters’ reports. At first we merely glanced at each other, “Did you hear it, too?” Then we counted. We passed through the cheering phase. We even considered making it a drinking game – take a sip every time we hear “Look” – but decided against it for obvious reasons.

Instead of a drinking game we’ve lapsed into mimicry. “What do you want for dinner?” Kerri might ask. My reply, “Look, I’ve surveyed my belly and 85% of tummy-grumbling prefers pasta over all other candidates.”

Without missing a beat, she counters, “Look, your data is clearly partisan since the people are voting for chicken soup.”

“Look,” I say, gathering my thought for a response, “I’m willing to work with you here. My caucus will support your chicken soup if you’ll guarantee chocolate sometime before bedtime.”

She stares her best stare of thoughtful consideration. “Well, look,” she replies, extending her pause, “I think we can make that happen.”

read Kerri’s blog post about LOOK

Start Here [on Flawed Wednesday]

Let’s start here: a strange attractor. “Chaos has its own pattern, a peculiar kind of order.” This magical definition pairing chaos and order is from the good folks at Merriam-Webster. They provide definitions of words. Words are a collection of symbols, called “letters,” assigned to specific sounds which, when placed in a sequence, carry meaning. For instance, D-O-G points to something unique and different than, say C-A-T. A collection of words placed in a sequence carries even more complex meaning. Dogs chase cats.

Thought. Expression. It’s nothing short of miraculous if you think about it. And, if you are thinking about it, you, too, are a carrier of meaning. The symbols and their sequence are useless without me and you, reaching to each other, agreeing on the general meaning of the sequence of sounds. And, more to the point, we not only carry but we create meaning. With our magical sounds-in-sequence we are capable of generating the high art of story, the supreme gift of understanding each other. We can reach each other, touch each other, move each other. We can find each other with our words. We shape each other with our words.

From the chaos of all-possible-sound, to the pattern of word and alphabet, to the order of sentence, to the power of story. Anyone who tells you that they are not creative is missing the point of their existence.

I suspect the power of story is infinitely more powerful than we might realize. We take it for granted, this extraordinary capacity, this glorious gift. You’d think we’d have more appreciation for our high art of language, our transcendent ability of speech. You’d think we might honor and protect truth and fact. They are the compass, the map through the forest of all possible tales. You’d think we might use our most powerful accomplishment to find, or better yet, to create shared ground. Common good is an intention, a creation.

You’d think.

There’s a vast difference between disagreement, conflicting points of view, and lie.

The point of a disagreement is to find agreement. After all, single-point-perspective begins from two disparate points of view. It is a “coming together.”

The point of a lie is to mislead. To deceive. To create false impression. False ideals. To foster disagreement. It is a tool for exploitation. It is meant to render apart.

Because we so easily sequence our words, pattern our thoughts, we are capable of using our magic, our ordered language to create…order. We are also capable of using it to create chaos. Disorder.

To help. To hurt. To accomplish. To disrupt. It’s a matter of intention. The direction of intention. How do you intend to use your precious gift?

The real power comes when we learn to think beyond our belief. To question. To ask.

The first rule of education, an essential rule in shaping precious words into thoughts, into actions, is simple: check your sources. Make sure the story you’re embracing, the piper you are following, arises from a well spring of good intention. That it has an ethical center. Check that it seeks to clarify and reach rather than obscure and demonize. Check that your thought-house is not built on a lie.

Check your sources. Of information. You, too, are a source of information, so…check your sources.

With our most powerful capacity to pattern, to create, to think in words and sentences and stories, we can be a carrier of the lie-virus or we can be part of the cure. Reach or reject. It is our choice, through how we use our miracle words and language, what we agree to create together.

Let’s start here.

read Kerri’s blog post on AGREE

Look Into Their Eyes [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I joke that my experience of moving to Wisconsin was akin to a brake-less semi-truck hitting a runaway truck ramp. I plowed into the sand and pieces of me flew off in all directions. My work, my artistry, my orientation to life. Also lost in the rapid deceleration were my defense mechanisms, my armor, my “status” and “role” as I understood it. Full stop. Bumpers, bolts and bits of me strewn all over the place. It seemed that I was no longer useful.

I recently read a story about African porters, after days of hurrying to keep up with the team of explorers racing to get through the jungle, the porters refused to go another step. They simply sat down. The exasperated explorers appealed to the porters to no avail. “We have been moving so fast, ” the porters said, “we must now wait for our souls to catch up to our bodies.”

I have learned that, amid my wreckage, I am like the porters. Although my abrupt stop was largely unconscious, my soul needed some time to catch up. Wonderment takes time. Depth of experience (otherwise known as relationship) requires a good bit of standing still.

It’s a lesson I have learned more than once. During my time in Bali, if I wanted to walk with Budi, I had to slow way down. It’s actually possible to walk-in-presence rather than walk-in-purpose. In slow walking I learned I could breathe. My mind slowed. Direct experience (also known as relationship) and imagination filled-to-the-brim my new found space.

In our world, so addicted to speed and achievement and possessing and lists and “getting there,” we flatten our experiences to the mechanical. In nuts-and-bolts there is very little meaning to be found. Worse, there is no inter-connectivity. There is no experience of togetherness in an expectation of quotas and cubicles.

When I was consulting with organizations, the most profound experience I could provide my clients was simply to have them stand and face each other. No words. Presence is utterly terrifying to people who are dedicated to never being present. Once through the terror, however, there is no better balm to the horrors of a “business-is-business” wound.

Flat world phrases like “bottom line,” “human resources,” and “business-is-business” are ultimately the language of abdication of responsibility. It is the language of separation. It is the language of cowardice. As we know, it is possible to do all manner of violence on people and the planet when they are reduced to a “resource” or considered an obstacle to business.

We can forgive ourselves anything when we refuse to stand still and look each other in the eye.

The eyes are, after all, the window to the soul.

Stand still. facing another human being, and you will at first pull up the drawbridge and man the parapets. Guards will rush to the towers. But, after a few moments of eye-to-eye-looking, the castle falls apart. The pieces come down. It’s like laying in a hammock on a dark starry night, gazing into the Milky Way. You will either clap your hands and laugh with wonder or you will weep with the profound recognition of belonging.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRAVELING TOGETHER

Go All In [on Merely A Thought Monday]

They tell us that the aspens peaked a week ago but I am no less in awe of the flaming yellows and oranges that pop across the mountainside.

On our drive to the mountain we talked about the extremes, the hallmark this time. “Vote as if your life depended on it.” “Vote or you’ll lose your rights.” Fascism! Socialism! Two walls of a crevasse with nothing but emptiness between. Thoughts of shared democracy must have fallen into the void. We passed a sign for a casino, “Go All In!” it declared. “That’s the perfect statement for our times.” Kerri said.

Go all in. Leave nothing on the table. Every subculture has its language. Place your bet. Double down. Crap.

I sit on the balcony and stare across the valley at the fiery hillside. The morning light makes the autumn electric. I close my eyes, bask in the sun.

I looked up how the USA votes relative to other nations. It is enough to say that we are not even close to the top of the list of voter turnout. We are either a glass half-empty or half-full, depending on your level of optimism. Apathy. Disbelief. Wasted votes. Voter block/blocked voters.

Voter suppression. Free and fair election. Another crevasse. A system of extremes. Gerrymander. Electoral college. Politicians picking their voters rather than voters picking their politicians. Jim Crow.

Winner-take-all.

Two deer just meandered across the meadow. I wonder what it must feel like. I doubt they despise the other deer for their particular point of view. People are funny. Given to story, sorting to the negative. Attached to the ugly. Lost in illusion. If you believe the Greeks, we were created to appreciate Zeus. Nothing more, nothing less. If Zeus is a metaphor for all-of-nature [and not a hairy-thunderbolt-hurler], then I am fulfilling my purpose sitting on this balcony.

Witnessing is easy. The crevasse is easily made. Bridge-building takes some courage and ingenuity. Apathy is easy. Participating takes some care and effort. Reach. Give voice. Go all in and vote. Or, as my pal MM once said, “You have no business complaining.”

read Kerri’s blog post about ALL IN

Click-To-The-Loo [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Language is fluid and ever changing. For instance, twenty years ago the words “hide,” “snooze,” and “unfollow,” had little or nothing to do with social interactions. You might snooze an alarm-clock but never another person. In 2020, in the alternate reality known as social media, people snooze, hide, unfriend, and unfollow people on a daily basis.

Language is powerful. We both define and reveal ourselves by the words we choose. It’s as easy as the click of a button to eliminate people from view. Click. Gone! Magic. The power to insulate. “Unfriend” and “unfollow” ensure that our engagements are only with like-minded people. Is it any wonder that we no longer need to find common ground? It’s a simple equation: you bug me/I snooze you. “Hide,” “snooze,” and “unfollow” are the words of bubble creators. Fortress makers.

Closing the gates might lock others out but it also locks us in. Either way, click. Gone! A smaller world. Raise the gates for agreement.

Closing the gates is not a function of disagreement. I heard this said the other day, “People say things on Facebook that they’d never say in person.” True. It is corrosive and ugly. There is rarely space for civil disagreement. Ideas are attacked as a first action. Responses are salvos. In other words, no one is snoozed for being kind. Courtesy and consideration rarely result in unfollowing or the ultimate nuke: unfriending. There is no space for civil discourse. We snooze, hide, unfollow because we are assaulted or we assault. Social media is startlingly anti-social.

Many years ago, I had the good fortune to listen to Stephen Hawking give a lecture on the possibility of multiverses, a string of multiple universes. His theory involved bubbles that occasionally bumped together. The bumping opened small windows of communication between the bubbles. The great miracle of two universes brushing together is that they, even for a short time, can communicate. They can share experiences.

Our great miracle is the opposite. We construct bubbles against each other. When our universes bump together, windows are slammed closed. We believe ourselves all powerful when, with the click of a button, we can extract a voice from our “stream.” So powerful is our illusion of the button, we’ve happily become the buttons. No courtesy, no kindness, no listening, no consideration necessary or expected.

Click: assault. Click: be gone.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNFOLLOWING

Search [on Flawed Wednesday]

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I’m a broken record: words matter. They are rarely accidental. For instance, the division between “black” and “white” was created. Our racial legacy is not happenstance. It is by design.

Power does not like to be challenged or threatened and strategies of division are great mechanisms of control. Taking pride-in-ignorance is another – it is a terrific support strategy if discord is the goal. An ignorant people are easily misled.

We enact and reenact Bacon’s rebellion again and again. It is a vicious cycle, a whirlpool that is hard to escape without a clear view of the full story. History, like language, is never passive, it comes with a dedicated point of view – and so we are witness once again to the great narrative tug-of-war.  We could drop the rope if we decided to look at our history, ask a few questions, and perhaps see the narrative slop that the fox and friends are force feeding to white fear as just the latest iteration of an old, old scare tactic.

Misinformation is nothing new. Propaganda is as old as human history. It is the downfall of a critter unique in its need for an identifying narrative to believe almost anything if it provides a sense of belonging. People who refuse to take a step back and ask, “Is this true?” will buy almost any line. Fear is a narrative with an agenda so what-on-earth prevents otherwise thinking people from considering that the daily dose of fear they are being fed might be cooked up intentionally? Trading brains for belonging never works out well in the end.

Black and white. Red and blue. We have a pattern, not a problem.

A people united are an unstoppable force and the worst nightmare of identity politicians.  People unite when their ideals – things like freedom and truth and justice and equality – transcend their small identity bubbles.  Ideals are unattainable – that is what gives them their special uniting capacity. We strive. It’s an active verb with an inclusive pronoun.

Hate and fear – all things divisive – are easily attained. That’s what makes them so useful to despots and control-mongers. Keep the thinking small and encapsulated within the tiny bubble. It will keep the people warring among themselves with no questions asked.

How do we move beyond this pattern and rise above the incessant division that plagues us? Well, we must first desire to see the pattern. We must choose to see. Then, we might be capable of revisiting the words we placed as central to our national ideal and choose to live them. Our words matter. That might require a few challenging questions.

It will definitely require a good deal of soul searching and that’s not such a bad thing. Nations, like people, grow and become better when they grow weary of their dysfunction and go looking for their soul.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Explicitly Divisive

 

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Swear Just A Little [on DR Thursday]

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If hyperbole and superlative hooked up one night at a bar and made a baby, it would be born muddy orange and wear a long red tie. Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?

Language is not a static thing. It evolves. The meaning of some words morph and change. New words are born. Old words retire and eat grass in the pasture. Some words flip and point the other direction.

When I pulled up this FLAWED CARTOON it was with some sorrow. It was written/drawn in another era and was actually meant to be funny, you know, like a joke.

The word ‘truth’ has definitely fallen into disrepair. It once required a certain veracity. Conformity with fact. No more. Elvis was been kidnapped by aliens. Michael Jackson lives in a bunker in Cuba and writes manifestos for Raul Castro who is really Julia Roberts in a funny hat. The Deep State is and has been for 10 years trying to undermine the duly elected president, just ask the mysterious Q and you’ll get Chef Boyardee’s secret lasagna recipe which, read backwards, will tell you the secret burial location of Mary Magdalene.  She is still alive, by the way, thanks to a healthy dose of hydroxychloroquine. Just ask the Post! It helped her chronic acne, too. Truth, I say! All you need do is check my alternative facts or let that sneaky fox hypnotize you by whispering sweet prevarications in your ear.

Who knew people would believe anything (note: I’ve removed the word ‘almost’ from this common phrase because it no longer applies) ((double note: the sky is falling. Fact! It’s  controlled by the CIA and, if you wear a red hat, it is out to get you, too!))? It’s a little known fact that sky really hurts when it falls. Sometimes it even cries though, being male, it generally tries to suck it up and hide its tears. Look it up if you doubt me.

The word ‘whole’ might also be in danger of meaninglessness. It used to mean, among other fairly straightforward definitions, undamaged. Intact. Consider these phrases: Whole truth. Nation as a whole. Nowadays it almost sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?

The truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth.  I swear! Now, that’s too funny, whatever that means. What a joke! Trust me on this one. Really.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WHOLE TRUTH

 

 

 

 

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whole truth/FLAWED CARTOON ©️ 2016 david robinson/kerri sherwood

Hear What You Say [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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A deep dark secret: we write the melange for ourselves. It makes us pay attention. For instance, Two Artists Tuesday is always an image, a photograph of something striking or beautiful that we’ve seen. The necessity of having an image each week to write about makes us practice seeing. We are always on the lookout for the simple beauty that surrounds us. And, each week (this will not shock you), we find too much of it. There is so much beauty available if you make yourself available to seeing the beauty.

In addition to images, we’ve given ourselves the necessity of listening to language, hearing the odd phrase, the ridiculous statements we make or that spill out of the mouths of others. And, like the images, there are always too many of them. We never know where they will come from. We are constantly scrambling for a pen or speaking to Siri so we won’t loose a phrase. Choosing the material for the melange is generally an act of sifting through an embarrassment of silly riches.

We had a 24 hour turn around trip to Kansas City. On the way back, too tired to drive another mile, we stopped in a rest area somewhere in Iowa to catch a nap. In my imagination there are travelers all across this nation with photographs of our sleeping faces smashed against the window of our car. Swimming out of our most recent roadside snooze, Kerri said, “That was a good nap! I was dreaming and everything.”(note: I’m not sure what “everything” refers to but that is definitely a post for another day.) I remarked that, if you can dream at the rest area, you were supposed to be there. Kerri jumped for the phone, “Hey, Siri…”

Siri, ever the grammatical maven, had a few suggestions. Think about it: a silly phrase inspired silly-phrase-correction-recommendations from a mechanical device (with a name) that is capable of speaking back-at-us (in “her” preprogrammed schoolmarmish voice). It’s a wonderful, confusing world. Unhinged. An embarrassment of riches.

[my personal favorite and almost the winner of this week’s melange: if you can dream OF the rest area you’re supposed to be there. The implications of this Siri-suggestion are ominous!]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DREAMING AT THE REST AREA

 

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Know That You Are Funny [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Before the world of text messaging, it used to be a game for me. Sit in a coffeehouse and catch snippets of conversation. There were little word hysterics everywhere. If you care to listen, so much of life sounds like the first line in a children’s book. I’m not sure why any of us should take ourselves seriously. We are a very funny species when taken in dribs and drabs.

Now that the world conversation has been reduced to tweets and texts, word hysteria is so pervasive, there is no longer a need to venture into a coffeehouse to capture them. I don’t even have to scribble madly to capture them. They come pre-written.  They are flinging through our news. The word hysterics are channels for policy. So few words given so much weight. We are being ruled by children’s book. I can only hope that historians will have a better sense of humor than we currently do. Taken out of context, the hysteria is hysterical.

It is refreshing, then, when someone sends a text and they KNOW that they are being funny. The dachshunds ate by candlelight. John Oz sent me to the floor with gales of laughter. The power was out. The dogs had to eat. What a terrific first line of a children’s book! It opens worlds of possibility (and, what great illustrations!)

Knowing that you are funny. Not taking yourself so seriously. Precision in humor rather than reduction of communication. Pretend connectivity. I breathe a sigh of relief when a bit of intentional consciousness comes through a text. It helps balance the pervasive other kind, the kind we take so seriously, the word hysterics that are meant to close thought. To reduce our thinking. It is funny how easy it is to blunt minds.  So few words; no poetry. Black and white. Children’s book thinking. It’s almost funny.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on DACHSHUNDS

 

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