Philosophy19 Nov 2010 12:37 pm

There is little in life more illuminating and mysterious than words and language. I could and will spend many days exploring and describing the wonder and reality of words. In the last post I discussed some of the beauty of our ability to think of the possible and the world of desire born out of our sex drive. In this post I want to talk of the beauty and possibility or words and some of the ways this power is being abused in our modern world.

We use words with such ease that we have a hard time imagining human experience without words. At times it is difficult for us to imagine human thought without words, even though we do have wordless emotional reactions, as well as artistic and musical experiences which contain much meaning without verbal assistance.

Yet, at each moment words stand ready to articulate our experience and paint our world. It is common for us to place words in different categories. Words sometimes function as names for objects (nouns), actions (verbs), descriptions (adjectives), and our reactions to events (feelings and emotions). Words are able to represent both time and place (real or fictional).

Let me explain some of the reasons that I view words as colors with which I paint my world. It is a little deceptive when we say that many words simply name things and objects. As an example let’s take the word sofa. Most people when asked to imagine a sofa can conjure up a rather specific mental image. Yet, it is probable that in a roomful of ten people that there would be a sizable divergence of the image imagined.

In other words my ideal couch is likely somewhat to very different than yours. Of course, much of the variety might have to do with qualities rather than the essential nature of the couch. Differences in color, texture or materials would not truly contest the very definition of a sofa. Yet, once we get into differences of size, shape, contours and the like we begin to blur the edges of what a sofa really is.

In essence a sofa is not so much a specific thing as a group of objects of varying qualities that is defined by related words. A sofa is a sofa until it becomes a bed, recliner, chair, love seat, etc.

This is also true in the world of action and emotion. One is walking until it switches over to trotting, running, hopping, dancing, leaping or swaying. One is angry until one is able to be labeled as frustrated, enraged, agitated or testy.

Words are far less rigid than we usually regard them. The irony is that the larger and more abstract your vocabulary the more richly and accurately you can describe the world and your experience of it.
At first, perhaps, we saw an orange and recognized it by its color. We therefore called the fruit an orange, and helped others identify it by its color. In this case the specific object was an orange recognizable to us because of its distinctive color. Yet, the moment we separated the color orange into an abstract concept separate from the concrete object of the fruit called an orange we opened up an entire world of articulation and possibility previously closed to us.

Once orange became a quality (color) and not just a piece of fruit we were able to see orange in many other things. Orange could then be a highlight or a quality we see in a host of other things. Our perceptions, descriptions, and experiences of so many other things in the world became richer and more defined by our recognition of orange-ness.

This is not to say that we didn’t see the color orange in other things before we came across the fruit, but only to say that perception and language have a synergetic relationship in which progress in one arena allows increased clarity and definition in the other.

One can see an elm tree without it being named separately from the general group of trees. Yet, once we have identified what distinguishes an elm from an oak it makes it far easier for us to enrich our experience of both oaks and elms. So, often see without really recognizing the specific attributes of that experience. Words have such a vital role in what and how we experience.

I’m a big proponent of giving care to how we frame an event or experience. The words we choose to describe an event to ourselves as well as others can drastically affect our experiences and our view of life. There are limits to the freedom we have to frame things and this skill can be used as a form of denial, but if used wisely it can help us become a happier, wiser and more satisfied person.

Describing a mountain view as majestic is far different than experiencing it as foreboding. Approaching a challenging task as an opportunity is far different than as a critical moment. I personally get excited rather than anxious when I have an opportunity to score the last basket in a game. Many on the other hand are paralyzed by the possibility of failure because of how they frame the situation to themselves. This is not to say that a person who looks at a challenge as an opportunity will always succeed, but only that the attitude of opportunity makes success more likely.

There is great power in the words we choose to articulate our experience. Even synonyms often harbor slight changes in meaning that can have a dramatic impact on the overall experience of a description.

Let’s go back to an image I used earlier and see words as carving out their own space. A sofa as I said is defined by the words that border it. It is a sofa until it becomes a love seat, longer or bench. Even though they are synonyms many would have a slightly different experience of a couch than a sofa.

The space of a sofa is defined by the words that border it. The more words related to sofa we have the more defined and specific the word sofa becomes. The other related words make its space smaller and more defined kind of like the increased number of pixels on a TV screen create the possibility of higher clarity and definition.

The larger your vocabulary and the reservoir of words available to you and the more clear and defined can be your experience and articulation. The more words at your disposal the more subtlety, nuance, and clarity available to you.

Each word is slightly different from every other word you know. Each new word is a new shade of color to paint your world and individualize your experience. Every word offers increased opportunity for clarity and definition, an opportunity for improved self-expression and for appreciation of your uniqueness.

One can still paint their world effectively with a smaller vocabulary just as one can be a great artist using a handful of colors or in the skilled use of a limited amount of variations in shades in pencil drawings. Yet, one cannot deny the possibilities inherent in a world of color as opposed to one in black and white.

Me, I enjoy words. I am fascinated by the endless expression and increased sense of intimacy words offer. I revel in the sense of personal growth and development I feel when I paint my world. I am overjoyed when I find a new phrase or description which resonates in you and seems to articulate a shared vision or experience.

The order of words like the order of notes totally changes the nature of the song being played. Words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs and paragraphs become stories. Each day is a new song, a new story and a new painting. Actually every day is a swarm of new songs, stories and paintings.

I feel so privileged to be able to share my words with you.

Jim Guido

PS Speaking of words and music, their has been a constant growth in the number of people visiting this site. Over the last three months traffic to this site has once again doubled from the previous three months. Also in this time period there has been an even larger growth spurt in the number of people listening to my songs and reading parts of my books. I would love to hear from more of you on how my art strikes you. Thanks.

Trackback this Post | Feed on comments to this Post

Leave a Reply