Saturday, February 5, 2011

Seeing the Invisible

by Jack Holt

When I was a boy, my grandfather taught me a Cherokee Proverb which I have pondered my entire life. It didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but the more I thought about it, and the more I grew, and the more I learned, and the more I did, and the more people I met, worked with, and engaged with, the more I began to see what the proverb meant.

I suppose that’s what proverbs are supposed to do. They guide you toward some universal truth that is unknowable at the time. Unknowable because you haven’t lived the time and it is time that is the critical factor.

While time is the critical factor, experience is the determining factor and thought multiplies the effect for it is what you give your thought to that determines what your experience is and the time you will give to a task and hence what you learn. This is true whether it’s cyberspace time or the “old-fashioned” variety of time! 

The proverb stated: “If you listen to whispers, you will not hear screams.” For a close-knit, tribal people this meant paying attention to those around you. Even in a hyper-connected age like the one we experience in cyberspace, it means the health of the whole is the responsibility of the individual. It means an acculturated community. It means seeing the invisible…an invisible that transcends both the tribe and the physical world, if you look and listen closely enough.

Why do we so often miss seeing the invisible? Perhaps because we are looking and listening in the wrong places.

What makes people who they are? Why do they do what they do? How can we know such things? Time, experience, thoughtfulness: just as my grandfather inferred in his proverb.

Listening to people, learning from them, learning all we can about them. What are their proverbs, their poetry, and their music? These are the tools of enculturation: how we learn and apply values of a culture.

To know a people’s language is just the beginning, to know their thoughts is to know them. This is what it means to socialize. This is how we will ultimately exploit cyberspace as a species. In the meantime, let’s listen…

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