Original Thought: Endangered Species

Original Thought: Endangered Species

At a time when language is being increasingly truncated, how do we communicate effectively?

By Bikram Vohra

Published: Thu 25 Jan 2018, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 26 Jan 2018, 1:00 AM

Every now and then, one comes across a phrase or a word that sticks in the mind because of its simplicity and the beauty of the meaning. In the recent film Darkest Hour, Lord Halifax turns to former British prime minister Harold Macmillan in reaction to Churchill's famous 'We shall fight on the beaches' speech in Parliament and says, "Winston just mobilised the English language and sent it into battle."
It summarises the grandeur and power of language.
Unfortunately, most of us use language merely to communicate and not to reach for the stars in elevating thought. One of the reasons for this is that we no longer think for ourselves. This is not spoken as an indictment, it is an observation.
We have become so dependent on unknown third parties to do our thinking for us that even good wishes on special occasions or any expression of an emotion are borrowed, leaving us bereft of one of the finest experiences possible to a thinking brain. That technology and new platforms demand a truncated crushing of the language makes it even more devastating. Most of us scramble through life on less than 1,000 words, which is pretty competitive for an African grey parrot but no great shakes for the human race. And since we now squander time being Peeping Toms or are being vicarious witnesses to the lives of other people, where is the need to even aspire for original thought?
The Greek philosopher Plato once said that for man to aspire, he must have leisure and to have leisure, he must have repose so he can think new thoughts. It is new thoughts that make us less savage. When was the last time new thought was a priority for any of us? Fact is we are content to be led by the few.
We would react to words like leisure and repose as indications of a day on the beach or simply lolling in bed because that is what they mean to us. For Plato, it was the majesty of silence, the grandeur of solitude, the magnificence of fresh thought, the time to think and create and break new paths. It is a sobering thought that we now text in abbreviations. So much for Plato.
But as we become more inarticulate and kid ourselves that our multiple options for communication are evidence of great and tangible cerebral advancement, the stunted growth of vocabulary and speech are further bruised by a lack of stamina for the written word. So busy are we bartering away our brains for cheap thrills that we have forgotten the pleasures of discovery. And by that token, even our actions have become stunted as have our affections for the simple things in life that count. Unless it comes with the right optics, we are unmoved by the small pleasures.
Time with family, talking to children, being there for someone, holding a hand, offering a shoulder, a nod of encouragement, a sign of gratitude, helping the challenged, backing the underprivileged, a selfless tiny deed, giving someone a dollop of pleasure, remembering a birthday, burying a hatchet, brokering peace between adversaries, serving a slice of hot justice, evening the odds against the cornered, telling the truth by getting involved and not walking away - these used to be the cornerstones of our existence but like loose gems have fallen out on the way. We find it so difficult to enjoy little pleasures, the fun things we used to do before we earned a bit of money and painted ourselves with a splash of so-called worldliness.
Ask ourselves how we sneer at food we once loved because it is plain. How we acknowledge addresses as proof of worthiness. Drop old friends because now we've moved on and they are still in the rut. Suddenly, the common entertainment of evening dumb charades is embarrassing; we would rather be more esoteric and move in the right circles.
None of that spontaneous interest in everyday things. We don't realise it but we even hurt those with whom we grew up. Sometimes, even family members are nonplussed as we posture and preen and become quite obnoxious in the way we turn up our noses at everything that was once our turf.
Even gifts do not excite us unless they are expensively tagged. Branded. You would not be seen in a bus or a train or eating at a roadside stall. You drop brand names, knowing fully well you cannot be contradicted. The movies others enjoy bore you, and you give out a certain restlessness.
You want to talk about this top of the heap model car and that model TV and how the new T 38 SUPERMOBILE works and your trip to Rome, and this surrogate boasting then settles into a sort of endless critique of everything around us. The dirt, the smells, the phone that won't work, the traffic jam, the queues, are all part of life at home, a life that not so many years ago was ours.
Whatever happened to the generosity of spirit. It dried up when no one was looking.

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