Why do we recognize all trees as trees if they are all different from each other? This question has enchanted many people throughout the years, and around 400 B.C. Plato came up with an alleged explanation for this phenomenon. According to Plato, there must be two worlds interconnected in the human experience: the “physical world” and the “ideas world”. Everything in the physical world must have a correspondence into the ideas world, so when you see an object (let’s stick with the trees for example) you are able to map it back to its “idealistic” version (for those who want to look deeper into this, it is called Theory of Forms). Therefore, there must exist the “ideal tree”, one master tree if you may, to which all the trees in the physical world can be traced back to allowing us to identify it. Notice that this explanation has interesting implications once we bring in communication. Plato went as far as explaining why we can recognize objects, but not only are we able to recognize them, we are also able to communicate our perceptions to other individuals through linguistics, and communication is possible because both individuals recognize the same set of objects as being correspondent to that concept. This means that all humans share their experiences not only in this physical world, in which technically communication is taken place, but also in the world of ideas, in which this communication makes sense. What if trees were never named trees (or árvore in my dear mother tongue), then our conclusions about the understanding of this world would be confined in ourselves. Language is one vehicle, a bridge, in which we allow ourselves to expand our thoughts, feelings and conclusions beyond our individuality and meet someone else’s thoughts, feelings and conclusions. The wider the bridge (language, grammar, vocabulary, communication skills, pictures, drawings…), the more connected we can be (to better explore this topic, you may want to refer back to my previous post Ever Changing).
The real gain though, isn’t so much in being able cross the bridge itself (which is already pretty great), but to be able to cross back. In a sense, if all humans were created equal, there would be no reason to build the bridge and communicate your thoughts, feelings and conclusions, because they would be the same as everyone else’s. Thus, in a sense, there is no worst motivation for communication than achieving consensus, because once it is reached, ongoing conversation loses its meaning. This is precisely where the biggest paradox trap lies. I realized the biggest obstacle to communication is the illusion it has already been established. When communication hasn’t been established, we try alternative ways, we improve ourselves in the process of coming up with new methods, new tools to make yourself be understood: you are essentially widening the bridge. But when we believe it has already been established, we assume it is enough, so we stop trying. How many unbuilt or half built bridges are there when people just couldn’t see the benefit of finishing it up?
“People are Lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.”
Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
But fortunately, we are all unique. Crossing the bridge is worth it, because despite this shared experiences we all have, the people living those experiences are all different, and sharing our experiences with others will ultimately improve our own experience, our own understanding. Communicating the complexity of what goes on in our heads through words makes us organize the events in such a way we are more aware of its structure, its richness, its layers. Ultimately, it allows us to live each moment with greater intensity than ever before.
There is a word in Portuguese called “Saudade”. Many people translate it as nostalgia, or the act to miss something. I will save you the time to put it on Google translator and tell you those are both incorrect, because we have a word for nostalgia and a verb to miss, so having another word that meant exactly that would make the word pointless and useless. There is no translation for it in English, or any of the other languages I’ve encountered throughout my life. I always wondered what people did when they felt “Saudade”, if there wasn’t a word to say it. Deep down, I started wondering if people who never learned Portuguese ever felt it. Today I understand they do, but in the midst of the complexity of this things that happen within us, not having a word for it might just mean people can’t recognize it when it happens, and might be deprived of understanding a bit more about themselves when it does. So I encourage each and everyone of you to don’t give up on communication because words aren’t enough to make it full. Let’s keep building bridges!