Point of Origin

Photomontage: Kid StuffSapient Sources

What Mother said carried no weight—

Dad said the same? Then it was great!

What Dad pronounced we’d all reject—

Then Mother said it? Yay! Correct!

It’s funny, no? But true, of course—

Belief depends more on the source

Than on the facts and evidence—

If only trust were based on sense

In my own heart and in my head

I’d just accept what Mother said—

Except, of course, when in the frame

Of asking if Dad said the same—

Trust & Trojan Horses

The problem of what and whom to trust or distrust is far older (though my niece and nephews might be shocked to hear it) than I am, but it remains a puzzle to me, too. In some ways, I suppose, the difficulty only increases with the passing of time, both personal and historical. As I get older and, theoretically at least, more mature and educated, I should have a greater base of knowledge and experience and sharpened observational powers and discernment. As history flows forward and the world grows smaller through the connections of increased mobility and communications, there are exponentially more points of view, levels of experience and learning, and sources of information to be sorted. Yet each generation, each individual, is generally born with no more innate wisdom and perception of fact-vs.-fiction than the ones who’ve gone before. We—individually and corporately—have had the opportunity to not only be taught by previous generations and their experience and learning, but also an unprecedented ability to go places, do things, and otherwise see with our own eyes what is possible on this earth. Yet there remains no shortage of people who mistake their opinions or values for facts, and demonstrable fact for somebody else’s ill-informed opinion if it doesn’t suit them.

When our classical predecessors told about the defeat of Troy by canny Greeks who tricked the Trojans into hauling a massive equine sculpture into the city as a victory trophy when it was actually full of Greek operatives who emerged by night, opened the city gates, and let their fellow soldiers in to attack [the standard modern interpretation of the tale], they tapped this universal theme. Whether it was clever subterfuge or a foreseeable pattern in war tactics didn’t matter so much, perhaps, to the ordinary Trojan citizen waking up to the sight of a Greek sword overhead, but any survivor of the battle must surely have considered whether he might have realized the ‘gift horse’ of left behind treasure was such an improbability as to be highly suspicious. A number of citizens did, apparently (as told in other parts of the Trojan Horse story) come to this conclusion, but such is our nature: there’s always someone making a counter-claim, asking the opposing question, and coming to an equally fervent yet incompatible Truth.

It’s on this ambiguity of our understanding and interpretation that American politicians and their supporters, no matter what the Issue or which side of it, thrive. That’s not merely an aside, but a fairly typical example of our quotidian practices. How easily we attach to our ideas, and how hard it is to persuade ourselves, let alone anyone else, that those ideas might merit frequent reexamination.

Digital illo: Truth or Consequences?

Truth or consequences? Can I trust that the drawbridge will stay up as I sail under it, down as I ride over it? Or will some villain throw the counterweight in gear against my safe passage? Do I rely on its long history as a sturdy and reliable bridge, or do I need to worry that all this rust means it hasn’t been properly inspected and maintained? Will it hold a horse? Will it hold a horse full of spies and soldiers?

Ultimately, I tend to think there are relatively few absolutes beyond being Alive or Dead in this realm of ours. The marvels of the world, as little as we know of it, are compelling and astonishing enough to seem beyond pat answers and fixed realities. But I also think that if our existence has any cosmic purpose, then chances are pretty decent that we’ve been set to a few basic tasks and given a few tools with which to attempt their accomplishment. Task: question; wonder. Tools: observation, cogitation, research, testing, conversation, reasoning, challenging, and returning repeatedly to the questions and wonderment. All of these, in endlessly rearranged repetitions, fill our tool and skill inventories.

What was considered self-evident Truth might prove to have some wiggle room for better understanding or a new reality in the long run: a human does not, as once believed, have to sprout feathers in order to achieve flight more extensive and less potentially final than that made by falling off a cliff. What was impossible may become possible. Complications remain. Humans disagree on what is or isn’t incontrovertible. No universally recognized and accepted magic surtitles appear, blazoned on the sky, that define fact, fiction, falsehood and firm truth for all people, for all time. We interpret and surmise. The very ability for the human brain to entertain two opposing potentials simultaneously enough to formulate and ask a question assures me that, answer or not, we will always find ample possibilities for disagreement. And also that we can keep moving forward. Even under or across a drawbridge. Even on—or in—a horse.

Empathy over Courage

Bravery is a rare commodity. Many people who think they’re being brave only dare to do so from within a like-minded group, however small in number, and when they are genuinely in the minority spend more energy on protesting that the majority from which they’re excluded is unfair and unjust than on doing anything useful to change it. It may be true—knowing human nature, often probably is true—that one’s opposition is no exemplar of justice and fair-mindedness. But we’re seldom willing or able, ourselves, to make a cleanly balanced assessment and especially, to act wisely and compassionately on it either. We’re generally convinced that anyone else having anything good means less goodness for ourselves, and that that is a terrible thing.

What impresses me more than bravery, real or imagined, is seeing anyone express real empathy for others through their own beliefs, lives, and actions. I tend to doubt that we’re capable of doing or even wanting very lofty things, but I also think that small doses of empathy will go ever so much further than any amount of derring-do and action-figure heroics in bettering the world and the human condition within it. Daring to let another person be richer or more privileged than me or to have the last word, even when I’m fairly sure I’m smarter, closer to correct, or more deserving requires quite a different sort of courage than running into danger in anyone’s defense or their stead.

But treating others with such respect seems to me far more likely than argument and defensiveness, self-protection and fear, to get anyone to trust and respect me in turn. So shines a good deed. The unselfish willingness to accept another person’s reality as valid even when it might cost me something significant is a kind of courage I dream of having, hope to learn.Graphite drawing: Reach Down to Raise Up

Sources of Brilliance, Such as We Are

digital drawingTropical Splash

A-chatter in the curling fronds, the wet-leafed canopy, the ponds,

Among the tangled twining root of every vine-choked tree’s broad foot,

Wild birds spread out their neon wings in this green palace of such kings,

Shout to a sun that’s seldom seen, deep in this hot palace of green,

But bring a blaze that’s all their own, as bright as such a place has known.

Take flight! Take wing! Aim for the sun–race with them upward, every one,

Above the canopy, to see whether a sun can really be;

And if it’s not, let no bleak night deter a second from our flight:

Upward and forward, light or none, we always ought to seek the sun–

And if not found, our calling is that we must light these palaces.