The importance of an open ear to a columnist
June 7, 2010 —
This stage in life, at which I think many of the Vanguard readers might find themselves at present or soon, calls for an open ear. An open ear, one that acts a sponge, soaking up understanding and absorbing ideas and perspectives, is most effective when accompanied by a shut mouth. Although I think it is quite fair to say that most of the talking on this planet is done by the self-centered who enjoy the sound of their own voice (for example, many columnists), I find it to be provocatively true that the sharing of wisdom and one’s own ideas is a sacrifice which costs the sharer and benefits the recipient. With that in mind, I share with the Vanguard readers this last thought about sharing thoughts.
Frank Thomas, New York super-criminal played by Denzel Washington, said something profound and undeniably and timelessly true. It has much to do with Michel Foucault’s idea’s about knowledge being power, a little tidbit of wisdom also wonderfully and melodiously articulated by those Schoolhouse Rock videos many of us used to watch through grade school: knowledge is power. Frank Thomas says, in a paraphrase of the idea that illustrates another concept, that “the loudest man in the room is the weakest man in the room.” Excuse the gender-centric iteration; it does apply to all people. It is simple, though, the idea. The more people know, the more power they have in any given situation. The more people know about a person, the less power that person has. This is why soldiers attack at night. If somebody is being loud, they are almost inevitably communicating, and communication means that ideas are being passed from that loud person to anybody who is there to absorb it. This is why I say, the communication of ideas, though often done out of a feeling of self-righteousness or self-importance, has little benefit to the person sharing them. That person empowers all who listen, and weakens herself.
Though I said, when I was younger, that I did not care what people thought of me, I shortly found out that there was sometimes a difference between what people think about me and what people know about me. Other times, one’s opinion of me, be it knowledge that corresponds to empirical reality or knowledge that represents falsehoods (but yet, is still knowledge to the person who believes it to be true), have exactly the same degree of influence over my life. It is regrettable that either have any influence, but this is the small price we pay for coexisting with other beings, and it is utterly unavoidable.
With all that said, I find myself at this stage in life where I am almost completely dependent on other people to offer opportunities to me. Certainly, I may pursue as many as I like, but very few of those doors are without a door-keeper, a watchman, who must allow me to enter for my efforts to be a success. At this stage, I am a fool to say much at all, if wisdom should result in the realization of one’s goals and foolishness should result in the elusiveness of one’s dreams, for saying anything that is true about myself makes me vulnerable to all who look upon it unfavorably, and saying nothing at all minimizes that possibility.
The third option, of course, is lying, which gives one the same advantage as a soldier attacking in the night. I have never had the kind of inner fiber that allowed me to seek that advantage, which of course has been a disadvantage for me, as many others do. By lying, one may create the knowledge that will provide them with the most advantage in any situation. In many ways, a liar is more powerful than a soldier attacking in the night. In the night, people are aware of their lack of knowledge, and so prepare themselves for attack. A liar creates a sunny day that will put the enemy at ease, but attacks with the same undetectability as though it were night.
I am in San Diego, spending time with my grandfather . The man has spent his life traveling and working in dozens of countries and writing about his experiences. As I grow older, I feel an increasing sense of urgency to extract from him what wisdom he has to offer. He is 78, and is charged with the electricity of a lifetime of adventure and contemplation. This observation causes me to reflect about myself, and the fact that I am 21, and filled with only a few years of trying to decipher the meaning of life. Looking at my own resume, I advise myself to gain more on the job experience before offering and expertise. A columnist must be willing to weaken herself for the benefit of the readers, or be too stupid to understand that is what is happening. Courage and stupidity oft are mistaken for each other.