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There are lessons to learn from listening to what people say - and sometimes those lessons go well beyond what has been said.
Some 90% plus Americans say they believe in heaven and hell. That corrosive Zoroastrian legacy leaches into their civil society and world view. I suspect that the French have a better handle on this – less than half say they believe in heaven but more than two-thirds believe in hell!
Americans generally are addicted to an adolescent bilateral-symmetry. This simple-minded tendency leads them to see most things in black and white. Under its oppressive ideology, the opposite of anything is named by simply attaching an ‘un’ to it. The opposite of ‘clear’ becomes ‘unclear’. The opposite of ‘ambiguous’ becomes ‘unambiguous’. But what suffices for adolescents is often insufficient for adults. While the opposite of clear may occasionally be unclear, the opposite of ambiguous is rarely unambiguous.
The idea that words have denotative meanings becomes a somewhat unwieldy concept as a ‘silly-putty’ language like American leads many to the presumption that intention need only emerge proximately. This tendency is often over-glossed by the constant ‘guilty but with an explanation’ plea that characterizes most American writers.
These are authors who constantly have to explain what they meant to people they assume ‘just didn’t get it’. Their writings seem to require a compensating companion – a continuing further explanation and clarification. But this, of course, does not ever suffice. Language should stand on its own and not require more than it is. Language should be intentionally clear. Less than that is a lack of clarity and that is worse than unclear – it is insulting.
A writer should accept that at least a portion of readers should be capable of understanding complex ideas couched in subtle uses of language. Otherwise, why bother – go read Shakespeare to a cockroach! Adolescences all around provides a delightful opportunity for the uninformed to lecture the unwilling on how to do the unnecessary. And, although some authors seem to prefer such a thing, is truth is it simply a kamikaze raid on a vacant lot – a waste of the possibility of actually awakening alive.
Clarity begins with intentionality. Intentionality is grounded in carefully crafted purposefulness. Writing without intentionality and purposefulness is much more like a finger painting by a three year old than a van Gogh or Picasso – more like Mozart than Beethoven – more akin to scrapple than pâté de foie gras.
The opposite of intentionality is indolence and indolence produces faux ambiguity. Extended adolescence produces an aversion to ambiguity. As the temporally-challenged encounter adult conceptions, they insist that there always has to be beginnings and middles and endings. Adults, of course, accept that it is all ‘middles’. You are born into an ongoing conversation and are obliged to leave before it is ended.
But these Three-Card-Monte types are insistent and, even with an occasional shuffling of this limited deck; there is always a bright colored tag on each. They don’t want to slip up and lose track, you know.
Ambiguity is most certainly an adult predilection and, like a taste for well-aged whiskey, steak tartar, caviar or a fine cigar, it is a maturing prerogative that requires an acquiring mind.
The opposite of ambiguity may sometimes be aversion. Faux clarity often signals an aversion to ambiguity and a tendency towards faux ambiguity. Clarity - which reduces reality to binary options – characters are good or bad – situations dire or idyllic – endings are happy or sad - and the reader is either Mutt or Jeff – is, first and foremost, a comment on the maturity of the author. Whatever ends up on the page speaks first about the author – their wisdom, courage, determination, purposefulness and intentionality – or lack thereof – and only belatedly to the subject being addressed.
For children ambiguity is always an irritation. To speak to a child in a way that holds their attention, ambiguity needs to be scrubbed out of the text. But for adults, ambiguity is delicious – scintillating – seductive. The warm rush of the intentionally imprecise has set many a heart racing.
She dressed as if there was something delicious to hide – never exposing much - or encasing herself in a dump of denim, burlap and bulk – but as if there was something strongly feminine - mysterious and sensual –that might be exposed if the right rhythms kidnapped her heart’s beating. And that made her incredibly dangerous.
A man pays no compliment to a woman when he tells her she’s beautiful. Either she is, and knows it – in which case he has stated the obvious and is boring – or she is not and knows it – in which case he is deluded and inconvenient. What she really wants is to hear is that she makes him nervous – better yet, that he’s afraid of her. As well he should be. Perhaps he is a man to her woman. At least then something would be possible.
Ambiguity is not the lack of intentionality – it is far more intentional that the unambiguous. The opposite of ambiguity is not clarity it is adolescence – faux clarity. The antidote for faux clarity is maturity – a richer and cumulative life experience and a more subtle understanding of life and the other.
As life’s experience advances, what was binary becomes increasingly complex. The two (clarity and ambiguity) become four (clarity, non-clarity, ambiguity, non-ambiguity) in an attempt to maintain the model. Then the four become eight (clarity, non-clarity, precision, indolence, ambiguity, non-ambiguity, adolescence, maturity) plus one (bilateral symmetry) which makes nine. The sensibility of it all becomes strained and the interloper looks increasingly dog-eared.
In a moment that is often forever life changing, the linear becomes something else altogether. The strip of paper is twisted half a turn and attached back to itself. A Möbius strip is formed dissolving the once over-arching principal of bilateral-symmetry into meaninglessness. Once freed from this straightjacket, the eight dissolve into fluidity - unpaired and with two new organizing principles (asymmetric relationalism and multi-dimensional intentionality) washing over them.
The world of human experience is neither bilateral nor symmetrical. To insist that it is indicates a preference for faux experience – that the world wears a mask and hides its true face. But, more insidiously, it constitutes a determined preference for the artificial over authentic experience. Synthetic judgments a priori that are useful within most professional disciplines are corrosive of the living human experience. They may make a better chemist or mechanic but they will proscribe experiencing the richness and diversity that life has to offer.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A model of a Möbius strip can be constructed by joining the ends of a strip of paper with a single half-twist. A line drawn starting from the seam down the middle will meet back at the seam but at the "other side". If continued the line will meet the starting point and will be double the length of the original strip of paper. This single contiguous curve demonstrates that the Möbius strip has only one boundary.
If the strip is cut along the above line, instead of getting two separate strips, it becomes one long strip with two full twists in it, which is not a Möbius strip. This happens because the original strip only has one edge which is twice as long as the original strip of paper. Cutting creates a second independent edge, half of which was on each side of the knife or scissors. Cutting this new, longer, strip down the middle creates two strips wound around each other.
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II
PJ, Mentoring Client,
Mentoring Client, CEO and Serial Entrepreneur,
Mentoring Client, Deloitte,
CEO of Croix Connect and Host of ABC Radio’s ‘Taking Care of Business’,
Partner, IT & Telecom, Defense Solutions,