My blog writing has been sparse of late. In mulling over why this might be I can’t say that I’ve reached any sure conclusions. Perhaps it has something to do with the volume of words that are inflating the information highway. I hearken back to one of my core philosophies, captured in the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tse -
“The purpose of a fish trap is to catch fish and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten. The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten. The purpose of the word is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to.”
Of all the words we hear, speak or read, which ones do we remember?
One of the tasks to which I devote myself is conducting funerals. On average I conduct 50 funerals a year. Each one is a remembrance and celebration of a particular life. Each one involves telling a person’s life story, whether that life spanned one breath or a hundred years. Each funeral involves a conversation with someone in order to learn the story.
I record bits and pieces of the conversation, much like a reporter, by writing things down in a notebook while we speak. Sometimes the room where the conversation takes place is full people all speaking over each other. Sometimes there is just one other person there. Sometimes the atmosphere is palpable, as if emotions become physical realities. Sometimes the stories people tell have no basis in rhyme or reason, but a certain truth emerges. I’ve heard stories that have no explanation other than that there is a reality beyond that which we can see and touch and feel for ourselves.
I’ve had a few experiences lately where people have responded to something I’ve written by offering personal attacks. Some weeks ago I wrote about how I challenged what I perceived as racism in the title of a magazine article. The author responded with denial and indignation. Even from people who one would think of as allies in a given cause, I’ve received rather snarky ripostes.
It’s okay to disagree with someone. The challenge of disagreement is to be civilized about it. There may be opinions that I strongly challenge, but that does not grant me the right to challenge the worth of the person who holds those opinions.
The information highway seems to be stripping away the sense of the need for civility in debate. I am happy to trade opinions, but I will not engage in a dialogue of rudeness. Someone writing a letter which they sign off, “Have Fun in Hell,” does not encourage a desire to try to understand where they are coming from.
I once belonged to a civic betterment organization that I eventually quit. When asked why, the only reason that seemed honest was, “It reminded me too much of everything I disliked about high school.” In some respects it seems that the world hasn’t moved far on from there.
So for now, it’s back to the stories, the parables of Jesus, the proverbs and psalms. Back to the words that will help me forget so many words. Oh, you’ll keep hearing from me on this site. It’s a good outlet and relatively safe.
Take Care – John Mann