Building a Bridge while walking across it

My apologies go out to anyone who logs on here hoping to read something original, interesting, or useful.

I persist in writing something here each week because I don’t dare give up an activity that keeps me thinking. I don’t want to fall off the bridge that joins me to the world.

So here is one more foray into the thicket of familiar thoughts and foundations of thought, even though truly creative exploration doesn’t visit me very often.

“Speaking” of creativity, in the face of patterns of behavior that don’t leave much room for such things, perhaps “speech” itself warrants some attention.

The capacity for speech provides a bridge between inner being (our vision, intentions and aspirations) and behavior (what we do, including our distracted, driven reactions to the forces in whose swirling tumult our lives tumble). (In Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path, speech joins inspiration and action, like a bridge between two shores.)

So why do we have such difficulty examining our inner being to discover our deepest yearnings, using our verbal capacities to formulate and articulate the person we aspire to be, and then modifying our behavior in ways that allow those inner yearnings and potential to inform our actions?

Looking around at the way that language is commandeered for purposes that have little to do with providing a bridge for the heart to express itself in the world (sound bites, fake news, false testimonials in the service of selfish agendas, and all the manifold acts of lying, shaming, defaming, and bearing false witness), we may well wonder if our desire to speak the truth even has a language capable of doing so.

So it seems worthwhile to inquire into the nature of the language we have learned and how we are using it.

If our verbal capacity provides a bridge between our inner and outer lives—joining what we think with how we act—perhaps this concourse sets forth from the shore of the past (as documented in our memories, patterns of thinking, expectations, hopes and dreams) towards the far shore of the future (inspiring us to behave in ways that integrate who we are with who we would like to be).

It would be ungracious to suggest that the past holds us back from this journey or keeps us from looking toward the future with interest and a spirit of exploration. But it cannot be denied that our language tends to keep us rooted in the past.

For instance, the words “recognize”, “return”, and “representation” are derived from the words “cognize”, “turn” and “presentation”. When we “cognize” (have a thought), “turn” (move in time and space) and “present” (share, reveal), we are more in the stream of present experience than when we “recognize” (identify an appearance in order to label it), “return” (turn toward something experienced in the past), or “represent” (characterize something in terms of something we have already perceived, identified, and labelled).

I am grateful for language and the wings it provides for flights of imagination, creativity and understanding.

But perhaps–in the marketplace of deliberate deception, defense of the indefensible and fragmentary opinions trotted out as if they are well-considered knowledge–we have an opportunity to use our own words carefully. And even when we talk superficially, hear ourselves repeating oft-voiced opinions, and use words in clumsy and inarticulate ways, we can still look over the railings at the waters of time flowing by, and appreciate that we have been given this bridge of language, to guide us in the journey of our lives.

2 comments to “Building a Bridge while walking across it”
  1. Michael, you write cautiously about language. You know there is nothing intrinisically good or bad about language. Words are tools we use to build (or tear down) based on altruism or selfishness or whatever motivates us.

    Does thought exist before words? Or do words shape thoughts? Some languages do not have certain words and thus cannot convey certain ideas. Do ideas even exist independent of words? (Helen Keller’s moment of enlightenment with water : “WAH TER” — when word and sound and concept and physical existence all meshed in a creative explosion that changed her life.)

  2. Kip, thanks for your beautiful counterpoint to my rather simple refrain. Your use of language exemplifies the point you make about the potential of language to be “good” and “based on altruism”. I’m glad to be in your circle of giving . . .

    I just read a post by David and Ken on the “Creative Inquiry” website, which expresses far more evocatively what I would have liked to say above:

    http://creativeinquiry.org/blog/?p=8404&cpage=1#comment-144708

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