Photo by NASA
Photo by NASA
Photo by NASA
Photo by NASA
A n d W o n d e r i n g
Humans wonder. That’s what we do. And we find things wondrous. No other life forms do that as far as we know. Lucky us.
These are some things I wonder about a lot.
T H A T’ S I N T E R E S T I N G. I W O N D E R….
Outrage is okay. Rage isn’t. Outrage wears a splash of dignity, even righteousness. Rage is just messy and undisciplined. But it’s a fine line. And both bludgeon the brain and heart. Neither enriches or renews. So I have decided to abandon both.
To abandon one thing, though, at least a thing like a feeling, we have to replace it with another. We can’t just hang out in no-feeling land forever. We have to feel something different.
Yesterday outrage started to creep into my morning as I read yet another bit of inflammatory news and wondered whether the perpetrator of the incident or the perpetrator of the article was worse. Without planning to I projected seven hours ahead into the late afternoon and felt how shattered I would be if I nursed the outrage all day long. And just like that, for the first time, I decided to do a different thing.
I said something to myself out loud (which you have to do for a while with a new thing until your brain acknowledges it as an intelligent response, not just a heroic aberration). I said, ‘That’s interesting.’ And then I said, ‘I wonder what really happened there and how the life-long context of the story, if understood, would change the article. I wonder how people might deal imaginatively with this incident.’
I felt different.
One part of me had rescued another part of me. I shivered as you do after somebody drags you out of an undertow, but it was a sweet shiver.
I saw eventually that even the first two words, ‘That’s interesting’, skewered the ever-ready outrage, thus overriding the rage that would have, because it always has, consumed me.
It modifies the relationship between input and response. It restores choice. And choice restores power.
‘I wonder….’ does the rest. It engages the mind substantively. And substantively is what we need when we are staving off a ripper like rage. Maybe that is because to wonder restores true dignity and because it takes us somewhere, rather than burying us where we are.
My mornings are different now. And my late afternoons.
Sometimes I Cry
Sometimes I cry thinking of a mind like Shakespeare’s. Or an internal world like Mozart’s. Or imagination like Heisenberg’s. Or seeing like Michelangelo's. I just wanted to say that.
And maybe those incomprehensible beyond-us configurations of humanness that seem to pop into a century and pop out again do not have to be envied. We don’t have to theorise that everyone is a genius and that we need only the right environment and experience to free the Shakespeare in us all. Maybe we can just let genius, real genius, be genius. A couple of different things populated their DNA than did ours, and that is fine. That does not make us less, nor them more. Not in some ranking-for-worth kind of way. They don’t matter more than we do.
But they are wondrous. And I think they deserve daily contemplation of some kind. More than a nod. More than syllabus inclusion in a ‘top’ education. More than movies about them. And books. And hashtags. They deserve our quiet, our stillness, our agog-making struggle to imagine being able to do those things. They deserve our sitting silent in the wings, the way gratitude, real gratitude, does.
We cannot be them. We cannot even understand them. Not most of us at least. But we can think about them, strain to get inside what they knew and did.
And cry. That we can do.
F a c t s ?
I’m worried. Facts are in danger. In fact, the very idea of a fact is raising eyebrows. Not everywhere yet, thank goodness. And you could say that only the zealous devotees of autocratic leaders are dissing facts. But you could also say that all of us now look around as we say the word. Some of that is just our timidity in the face of fact-phobic clients or bosses. We fear they will stop paying or promoting us if we are fact-advocates. Especially if we say that facts should be the basis of organisational policy, heaven forbid.
I remember the very moment this started. It was 22nd of January 2017. I froze the moment I heard Kellyanne Conway answer Chuck Todd’s question. He had asked her why the brand new Press Secretary had uttered the falsehood that ‘Trump had attracted “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration”’. Todd said that the facts unequivocally disproved that. She said, ’Sean Spicer gave alternate facts to that.’
God help us.
Alternative facts. What ever are those? Outdated facts, okay. Emerging facts, fine. But alternative? Do we have a choice when it comes to facts? Let’s see, I think I’ll come up with an alternative fact here, something favourable to me that is actually disprovable right this minute. How about …?
At least Chuck Todd nailed it in response: ‘Alternative facts are not facts.’
But I registered that moment as the beginning of something sinister. It was permission to censure provable facts and replace them with whatever you feel like. And then to use your authority and your you-worshipping public to assert it as truth. Orwell is laughing.
I’m not sure what else to say about this. I’m Munch’s ‘Scream’. Hear me: there is such a thing as a fact. And they are our best objective reference point for describing physical reality. (There are feeling reference points, of course, and they matter, often crucially, but we don’t claim them as objective fact.)
And yes, some facts get replaced over time by new discoveries. But not by provably-wrong ‘alternatives’. And I appreciate that when you get to the ‘entanglement’ level of the quantum world, ‘facts’ change their nature; everything is potential; everything is relationship; and indeterminacy is the name of the pretty much incomprehensible game. But a) by the time those indeterminate relationships become us, their exotic indeterminacy has zilch to do with the experienced facts/reality we live in and in which we make decisions and policy, and with which we compute how many people went to an inauguration. And b) fact-deniers are unlikely to have read anything, even the sublimely eloquent Carlo Rovelli, on this topic. (Forgive me if you are a fact-denier and you have read him. I admit to prejudice here – based on my collection of facts of the fact-deniers who stalk my world.)
As I said, I’m worried.
I’ll leave it at that.