Lo spettacolo continua

Watching the news the other day, it occurred to me that people who have “words to live by” often begin to attack and even kill others. I thought back to my own angry youth, when I could easily use words to justify violent thoughts which might have become violent actions. Words are tools, and yet it seems that they can be more dangerous than gunpowder.

This isn’t just about communication with others.

Imagine two men facing each other, pointing past one another. One is pointing at a tornado that is coming, and the other at a raging fire headed towards them. Each sees their own truth and is angry at the sight of the other’s hand. Each feels that the other’s hand is “wrong.” This may seem silly, but replace the tornado and fire with any modern issues, and the hands with words, and this scene describes how we often try to communicate.

We point past each other with our words, arguing as though we are looking at the same facts and experiences.

We want to prove our words are the right ones, instead of learning to look at what the other’s words are pointing at. Words are seductive, and for all their undeniable usefulness, they also can lead us away from understanding when we focus on them, when we make them more important than the truth they are meant to point at.

There Are No Words To Live By

This isn’t just about communication with others. We focus on, and get trapped in a net of words that we use to explain the world to ourselves. We call things “right” or “wrong” for example, according to how they compare to our “definitions.” Unlike mathematics, though, word formulas and definitions can never be so precise. They cannot encompass the whole truth of reality. For example, with the least effort, you can create a circumstance where “stealing” would be right, and “helping” someone wrong. This isn’t an argument against using language or logic. It is just that both only go so far. Like a car that takes you across the country or world, they are useful, but like a car, they are only useful in certain ways, and you have to get out of them when you arrive at your various destinations. Taking a car to the lake isn’t a problem, but taking it into the lake is. This is what we do when our words and logic take us to dangerous situations.