I like words, actually trying to speak French gives me great frustrations as I know my vocabulary is incredibly small, which it is not in English. I remember telling a story to a young lady in French, and at the end I said do you understand me, “yes” she replied, and then I asked “then why are you laughing?” She replied, “Because it’s like listening to a five year old!”
I used to think that words where just how you expressed things, and so got irritated by those in the equality lobby who wanted to change expressions like chairman to chair person or manhole to person-hole. It seemed to me to be picky and stupid. I no longer think that way. I recognise that our words come from our thinking and actually re-enforces our actions. So if we are sexist, using sexist expressions just enhances our bias.
The Good Samaritan
Some time ago, before the tribal troubles in Kenya I was speaking at a conference. I was using for my talk the story of the Good Samaritan. Knowing a little about the tensions of the area I used as my illustration one of the tribes, who in the area where I was, was not very popular to say the least. I chose this least popular tribe and used the tribal name instead of a Samaritan.
A few of my friends have commented on this subject of late, which has set me thinking. Every so often we have this flash of how progressive we are today, how clever we have become and how sorry we feel for those older or past that did not have our knowledge and so progress, and oh how civilised we have become.
I think that was the sort of zeitgeist around 1913 particularly in Europe and then of course came World War One 1914 – 1918 with all the civilised countries of Europe and then the world trying their best to annihilate each other.
Then of course the talk was that this was the war to end all wars, we would then become civilised. The progress of the humans could continue, we know so much better than those throughout history our forefathers and the like. The dream was of course shattered by World War 2 1939 to 1945 with its mayhem and destruction and inhumanity to mankind by very ‘civilised progressive humans’.
I have thought about this a lot. It is one of those words that the English have borrowed from the German, but which in its usual dictionary explanation does not express all that the word implies. Some words are just like that, aren’t they?
The dictionary definition of the term is; “the spirit of the time and general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time”. Well yes, but the thing is when you go into the background of the word from a German perspective, it has many layers to it. This is perhaps why we don’t have a good feel of its translation or its common English usage. The word in German carries the idea of being in a fog, so the ‘spirit of the age’ is not recognised by you or me, because we are so influenced, affected, controlled by, engulfed by, our eyes covered by the fog of the spirit of the age that we do not know there is such a spirit nor can we see any alternative. From a German perspective you can only assess zeitgeist in retrospect; looking back or, better translated, the ghost of the past age. Then we can see what it was and know where they went wrong or how they could have done better. Hind sight is a wonderful thing.
YES OR NO?
Our sound bite age is impatient with answers that take more than two minutes. We want it simple and we want it quick and we want it to be correct and all encompassing. Our culture may be in that ‘want’ position, but it’s unrealistic, unhelpful, untruthful, unfulfilling and just does not work.
I am reminded of the story of the old farmer, with a horse and cart riding through the country lanes with his dog by his side and a load of hay on the back. A sports car came around a bed far too fast and crashed into the old farmer causing considerable damage an loss. Eventually the farmer and the driver had their day in court and of course the farmer was trying to get compensation for his loss; on the other side the defence for the insurance company were trying to settle for as little as possible.