Person

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For a blog like this an article on persons seems a bit superfluous, don’t you think? And yet as I find myself musing on the things that matter to me and the relationship of each to the people I interact with I find myself trying to define humanity, you know what I mean? Or rather, describe humanity. Even more precise, describe this particular human. Which begs the question: is there a way to generalize? Is there a definition of “person” or “people” that everybody will agree with? Methinks…. Not! Especially because we are, to quote a well-known phrase, “unique, just like everybody else”.

Our definition of person depends on many variables like culture, ethnicity, era, religion etc. It seems not only impossible, but downright foolish to try and unify those as we are self-evident, like time. Except that we find exceptions (fetus, child, racially different human, non-physical beings, animals, rivers….) based on the variables described above so we are anything BUT self-evident. Or we are self evident to ourselves but not so to others and vice-versa. We are usually self-evident to our own groups but even that is not fool-proof – think children and decision making

Some general ideas: we are people when we live and behave like other people (feral children and psychopaths?), we are people because we are born so (apes and corporations?), we are people because we can make decisions (in a coma and women?)… you get the gist, for every definition, for every right granted, there are exceptions and they all sound oh so logical.

What to do, what to do?

It may be that the problem lies with the words like “definition”, with our desire for things to be clear-cut, once and for all, fixed. It may lie with our brain’s perceived inability to deal with change and uncertainty – although that is highly debatable. It has to do with the complexity of our worlds where systems and laws and policies and procedures and beliefs and biases account for more and more of our very lives.

I think it’s time for fluidity. We can both be human and grow into it. We can accept a river is important enough to count as one of us. We can continue to talk about it around the dinner table not just in obscure journals: is Puppy Dog a person? How about that gorilla or that dolphin? What makes humans human? What makes humans and non-humans persons? Are aliens persons? How about robots and clones and embryos? The key word is talk. Another key word is acceptance. My little one may not think our cat is a person, but many a people might disagree with that.

In my books relying on self-evidence is dangerous because it perpetuates ignorance. Even though I have been, am and will be, this second and forever…

Opposite

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Set against? Sounds quite divisive… and I have an issue with that! But there is a line between enemy and difference, and it’s that line that I wouldn’t mind travelling on. I am talking about people, you know, and more specifically about the line between the individual and the social creature. What are the sacrifices? How far should we go? Where do we stop? What do we expect from others?

It comes as no surprise that we live in the world of people, made by people for people’s purposes. Which people, from when and what price this world I will discuss shortly. Suffice it to say that making a living alone on a deserted island (Scotland, anybody? Or maybe the Pacific) is very rare and suits a very few of us. Most people live close to other people, in distance if not in spirit.

And chances are that if you live close to people sooner or later you will bump against certain rules, many of them of the negative sort (don’t…). Provided you don’t have certain health conditions, you are made aware of those rules since when you’re born. They shape your life, whether you will it or not, whether you respect them or not. They become part of you. So when you meet someone who doesn’t have precisely the same rules, you are made aware of difference.

Of course the above is too simplistic by orders of magnitude. The factors that influence our lives are many and complex, the relationship between them is complicated at the best of times. We give the rules different names and different powers and different weights.

But the individual questions remain the same. What is the price I will have to pay to be part of this social group? How much of who I am do I need to restrain, renounce or defend in order to belong? How do I make that choice and will I be satisfied with what is left? Is it worth it? Yes, I am aware that the social contract theory is not the be all and end all of the universe 🙂

Then you get into the self-esteem questions: am I not likeable the way I am? Am I good enough now or do I have to whittle a little bit more of myself?

The funny thing is many of us find our peers, our family by choice, based on our individuality. We create clubs, we have coffees and dinners together, we go for walks together. But remember that Clavell quote about the three different hearts of people? The obvious one (shown to the world), the closed one (shown to few), the secret one (shown to no one)…

I am running out of my self imposed space 🙂 I wanted to write about the weight the social factor has on the individual. I wanted to write that the secret face deserves to at least be acknowledged by the individual, not subsumed to the social. I wanted to write about inflexible systems that crush difference and try to fit the person in rather than become fit for the person. I wanted to write about rights (freedom?) and lifestyles.

I was watching “Moana” the other day. I am not the only one whose heart strings were tweaked by her breathless “we were voyagers!”

And I was thinking of the old adage, that if a human wants to live in a tree, we must make sure that the tree is fit for human habitation 🙂

Is there a difference? Or enmity?

Senses

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It is an interesting thing to discover how many senses we have, whether distinct or not. I was even more interested about multi-sensory integration but that subject proved a bit dry, whereas it is anything but when you experience it – I’ll stick with experience, if I may!

But what I found the most interesting of all is the link not only with other senses (official or not), but how senses link with volition, memory, anticipation, expectation and a few other things to create a life form that colours the gloomiest of years. This is what you may share with friends if what you’re after is a deep philosophical discussion about what is normal

Sight is perhaps the first sense one thinks of. It may also be the sense most linked to memory and pleasure. It can be educated (“look where you want to go, not at the other driver”, thank you, my friend) and indulged (how many photo albums did you say you have? No, it doesn’t matter if they’re virtual!). And the anticipation of seeing mountains used to make my tummy roil in a most genuine manner…. I love mountains, you know, and I used to see them only once a year.

Hearing is the next best thing in my opinion and I am not alone – think Sean Connery and your absolute favourite piece of music. And now imagine your body getting ready to dance and the hollow feeling inside that tells you the music is there to replace whatever imperfect organs you might have been born with.

Smell is an odd one. So necessary when it comes to food, so distinctly specific about its preferences (my limits are durian and coriander leaf/cilantro). But I also remember dancing close to a man I liked and respected with good qualities like strength and laughter…. And thinking “he is not mine, he doesn’t smell mine”. Which, of course, makes me the type who carries a small piece of carton with the fragrance of a loved one… even though it is not the same, never the same!

Taste (and flavour) is quite direct in its own way. Orange juice, tomato-based sauces, hot tea with milk and sugar, chocolate… the small bursts of pleasure that can accumulate in fireworks explosions, Ratatouille style… and the odd impulse to bite chubby infant calves or a lover’s shoulder.

And let’s not forget touch. Velvet and silk, soft flower petals, whipped cream, pet fur, starchy linen, mossy boulders, tree trunks and warm sand, popping bubble wrap, ticklish feather dusters… but also the invisible desire for human touch. Children die or fail to thrive without it, we seem to crave it even when we’re pretty convinced we don’t need it. But Virginia Satir said it best: “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

What’s your number?

Brain

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Storms are supposed to be rare events in the year. They are not anymore. It does not seem quite so fanciful, after the 10th storm of the summer, to believe that the entire planet has decided that humans are better off kept inside, where they cannot do so much damage. It is, of course, ironic that humans can and do make more damage when they are inside and not in direct contact with nature. It is inside that we seem to forget just how small a piece of nature we actually are. It is inside our cities, our houses, our minds that we believe ourselves stronger than nature.

This is, it seems, how we grow up. It is nurture (for want of a better word) that makes us forget nature. It is our brain, our big, biased, besotted brain that makes us forget ourselves. We are against nature even when we pay it a compliment, for we separate it from ourselves.

Brains are terribly good at doing what they are supposed to do, provided we don’t try to override the rules. Which we do, children of our age as we are. Then, the brain becomes a terrible thing of beautifully articulated destruction.

I get quite passively misanthropic at this stage, usually because I tend to use the brain in the human way and of course there is no hope. Of course there is no way to return to an idealistic and idealized noble savage existence. Of course there is no hope for humanity. How can there be, when I can see and follow the news and read between the lines in serious articles about the desperate state of – insert any subject you can think of here – and it is clear to any logical brain that hope is futile. Resistance is futile. Life itself (as far as humans are concerned) is futile – pun not intended and of quite bad taste, wouldn’t you say?

And yet hope remains, quite aside from the futility that is evident. For truly we are not meant for a life of leisure, it is terrible for our health. 🙂 When all the avenues are closed (by ourselves, of course!) our brain remembers defiance. When one cannot succeed, one eventually finds out (and grumbles about) someone else has an idea that will work. When alone we despair we find that we can sing in unison.

Even more idealistic, do you think? And yet I have seen it, time and again. The best movies we watch are about this – you know the ones I am talking about. The books we read and re-read year after year all talk about this. The revolutions that sweep through nations are all about this.

The reason hope was shut within Pandora’s box (urn, whatever) is because most of the time it is a torment for the brain. It doesn’t allow it to just gorge on sugar and infer stupidity out of mere annoyance. It pushes and prods and chases away all logic. For what is logic other than a tool, and how true that once you have a hammer everything around you seems to become a nail?

The wrench, however, is just near the plier….

Pride

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What a conundrum this is, from definition to meaning! How did we get from a Latin expression “to be useful” through to “brave” (all those knights!) to a deadly sin? And how come everybody seems to have an opinion about pride and they are all at loggerheads? Don’t even get me started as to what “conundrum” or “loggerhead” mean, or we’ll be here all night! 🙂

But pride, ah, that is a beauty of a concept, so debatable, so ambiguous! I think I already said once that if a deadly sin is mine, pride it is!I can’t really say I am repentant about it – that would deafeat the purpose of the exercise, wouldn’t it? So even the hard way to correct a sin (do the opposite until it becomes second nature and the first nature is defeated) is a no-go. Because I am still to be persuaded that it is a sin to begin with.

It is linked with individuality and ambition in many ways, and personally I strive for that feeling. Because if I learn a lot, and apply myself, and practice incessantly, then I am likely to succeed. And if I succeed , then I feel proud, and I don’t see why I should give credit to anybody else. I can be grateful to my parents and ancestors for giving me the good genes, I can be grateful to my education that I have developed certain abilities, but the combination of gene and ability and the effort are mine alone, the goal is mine alone, and without that effort or that goal, the best of genes and the soundest of educations are pieces that will never become the whole.

A small example, and a bit of a block of mine. Seeds. The bane of my gardening existence! I can (and have done!) take a half dead plant sold for peanuts at the shop. I can plant it and take care of it and it will survive and produce and re-seed with gay abandon. But I have lost count of the number of packets of seeds I have scattered that failed to show even a tiny plant as a result. My pride has been impugned or some such thing! So I will do it right this year! I have bought or received the seeds. I am doing it by the open book that is my tutor. I am nurturing them and chase away the cat from them. And I will wait (oh, no!!!!). I wish to succeed. Nothing to do with survival, life or death or any of that. If I don’t succeed then I will go as I usually do to the shop and buy the half dead darling seedlings cheaply and do what I’ve done these past many years, get them to live. But ah, I can just imagine the feeling if I do succeed. I will feel so proud!

So why shouldn’t I feel proud? I am likely to believe in myself a lot more if I feel justifiably proud, and thus will try harder next time for an even better result.

Maybe the operative word is “justifiable”?

I will not attempt to fly, I cannot do it. I will not attempt to crawl through a mouse hole either, I cannot do it. But I can do human things in a human world in the human way and do it so that they serve the world, too. I believe we can and should be proud of that!

Words

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Such a simple construction… a few sounds, the associated letters, an agreed-upon meaning… suddenly, you’re in the business of communicating! People use so much of who they are to work with such a simple thing: they hear it, they speak it, they understand and remember it, occasionally they write it, they use it sometimes every day. If they don’t know the word, they may still understand it from the context and children learn full languages from scratch to perfection in just a few short years.

Truly words are amazing, and people use them in so many situations that I am not even going to attempt describing it. Originally, ancient people who have coined names for the naming may have meant something else, but for the Latin and the Slavs the meaning is that of understanding, meeting, gathering. Maybe the unity formed by the sound and sense is what brought the actual word into being.

For me, words are both slaves and masters. I can gather them, and use them, and play with them as time goes and I read more, talk more, write more. There are maybe for you a few people with whom you talk differently, who manage to kick-start your language ability in ways you never use at work or in the family. It is exhilarating to banter and quip with those people, and sometimes I feel as if a wall is coming down. Most of the time I “translate” words, not from my native language to English, but from solemn English to practical English. Translation is, however, by definition measured, reasoned, slow. When that wall is coming down, words flow fast, spontaneous, almost withought thought, like champagne overflowing the cup in sparkling abandon.

But the words as slaves multiply and rebel. When too many are crammed into the little time I have for reflection, they lay siege to the very fortresses of thought and these revolutionaries demand to be heard, to be written, to be spoken. Guerillas of words, organized and efficient, come out in poems and metaphor. There is no resistance that I can mount, all I can do sometimes is delay the inevitable grabbing of paper and pen. They are assuaged then for a while, and tensions that I was never aware of dissipate as if a pressure valve has been opened.

So if I have no powers over the words then they are masters, are they not? I do not feel as if I have much choice, and especially when it comes to writing. And yet they will submit to the sentences I craft, they obediently line up in the verse I mutilate in the modern fashion. Then they are slaves? Or just demanding pets?

Eh, humanizing words (aren’t they human? Stories are ambivalent on this subject) doesn’t seem to work. What to do? Much as I sometimes feel like rebellion, the easiest way for me is adjusting, giving and taking as seems appropriate at that time. There will be times when I speak them and times when I will write them, times when they hold sway and times when I ignore them, times when they help and times when I hinder their flow.

There is a story in my language where all the sounds and words utered by humans go to a land beyond mortality, where they live forever. Someone journeyed there to find a spell and was almost crushed under the weight of memories those words were carrying.

Should we not make sure that the words we utter are worth being crushed under?

Whoever…

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…tinkered around to pipe hot water in a shower deserves a special place in heaven.

… was inspired to put certain leaves in water and then experiment to get the innumerable types of tea deserves for even his nightsoil to be put to good use.

…says “women drivers” with that special eye roll deserves to read history and discover who created cars, road rules, traffic lights and other accessories of modern driving (hint: it’s unlikely it was women, they were at that time supposed to do only feminine things, whatever those may be).

…drives in December deserves a good hot cup of tea after that to calm his/her nerves down.

…will invent a good contraceptive deserves the love and gratitude of many (hint: it must not interfere with hormonal balance, body function, health, desire or fertility… hmm…. Santa!!!!).

…will invent a permanent (preferably painless) depilation system deserves at least a good kiss from whoever uses it.

…cares for the Earth in all that they do deserves to be helped with his gardening.

…looks up at a beautiful sunset deserves to stop the car and get lost in the moment.

…finds out that love is a good substitute for food, drink, air and other necessities deserves to be called human.

…went to the trouble of perfecting chocolate deserves a place in the heaven of hot showers.

…picks up a much-read book, curls up on the couch and starts smiling deserves a couple of hours of free time.

…takes care of others deserves to be taken care of as well.

…decides to approach a long-lost aquaintance at Christmas time deserves to get at least three words back.

…has worked for others deserves to enjoy the fruit of his work and a hot cup of tea.

…makes a conscious decision that housework can go to pieces while they curl up on the couch reading to a child deserves an interesting story to be found.

…is braving emotions, thoughts, facts, health, accidents and obstacles deserves to be shown a way and given time.

…gets into the spirit of the holidays deserves a present 🙂