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The big picture


Fundamentalism can creep its way into any space. I’m using the word fundamentalism here to say: non-negotiably following any subject’s basic rules. At first, these rules seem a nice set of concepts to cling onto. They set boundaries. “I stand for THIS! Not THAT,” fundamentalism proudly and boldly proclaims. It is illuminating to learn something’s rules, at first. They help guide us in the right direction. But, at some point, the “rules” might just start holding us back. At some point, the world may ask us, need us, to use our own brains, our own discretion. As Thomas Moore teaches in his book “Care of the Soul,” the intellect may crave strict and steadfast rules to hold onto, but the soul wants the nuance, the insight, the multi-layered levels of meaning and possibilities. Concrete ideas do work sometimes, but other times, the reflection and thoughtfulness of the abstract world needs to stake its place in our lives, too.

In my own life, I formerly felt the pull of fundamentalism as it regards the English language. I enjoyed the rules, and doing things like proofreading and finding mistakes in books brought me such exquisite joy! (Nerd alert.) I call out misuses of words during conversations, (inside my own head, that is). After having the experiences of getting graded, or judged, on how proper your schoolwork was, and its prevalence of “good” grammar, then being validated when the work was up to par, I began to strictly adhere to the rules I was taught, and vehemently oppose any mistakes.

It took me reading the works of linguists before I realized, as they taught, and to my bewilderment, that there really is no grammar police. Meaning, you are actually allowed to write however you want. The only key is for others to understand it, if that is your intent. Furthermore, our language, because it’s still used, is not a set language; it changes. It’s dynamic, with each user adding their own contributions, each and every day. Hundreds of new words are added to the dictionary yearly, in an effort to keep up with the ever changing lingo. New phrases are coined, too. Different ways of using capitalizations and punctuation marks arise too, especially in informal ways of communicating, no matter how much the English teachers cringe behind their desks.

Recently, I enjoyed the pleasure of listening to many hours of the audiobook version of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” during a long car trip. The author regularly defines words and expressions for the reader with the phrase, “which here means,” and continues to describit using the context of his writing, not the dictionary definition. For example, he wrote that “fallen by the wayside: an expression which here means "they stopped calling, writing, and stopping by to see any of the Baudelaires, making them very lonely."” And still another time that the same expression is used, it is defined as “flunked,” because this time, it was the schoolwork which had taken its turn to “fall by the wayside.”

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing author Daniel Handler’s alternative definitions in “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” because it showed how flexible something like words really are. A word may not just mean one simple thing- it may actually be an association with a whole group of meaningful items, a whole archetype within itself, if you will. So, a fundamentalist view of, say, language, doesn’t exactly cater to real life applications, because a living language’s reality is an ever expanding existence, not a steadfast adherence to a set of pre-existing rules.

As it applies to language, so it goes with many other subjects, too. When it comes to many matters, whether it’s our political views, religious philosophy, or any other notoriously divisive issues, it may help to wonder sometimes, “Is this really the hill I am supposed to be standing on to die on?” So many issues build walls between people in each town, school, state, country, and humanity as a whole. But should the things that are separating us really even be separating us? Are they worth standing up for? Is it really worth any of our precious energy? While it’s obvious that my fascination with proper English was not worth clinging onto, there are so many other areas of life that take time and introspection to find the proper vantage point from which to view them. Those who emanate that special radiance of comfortableness and ease of life are the ones you can bet were serious about being happy with their own life’s philosophy, and who took that extra time to sort out the necessaries from the things worth simply shrugging off. They see that beautiful wide view of life- the big, landscape picture- which is there for anyone to enjoy, readily accessible to those who refocus each time they’re called upon to do so.


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