Thinking About Thinking - 2019


Fictionless and Frictionless

By Balaji Prasad

“The water in a vessel is sparkling;
the water in the sea is dark.
The small truth has words that are clear;
the great truth has great silence."
~ Rabindranath Tagore

We live in a world of things, and in a world of words. It is not always clear when a thing is a thing, and a thing is only a word. It is a bit like when you inject a spurt of blue ink into a clear and transparent fluid. At least in that instance, we can point to the blue splotches and say that those are the places where the ink dominates, and see places where the original fluid's clarity rules. Alas, with the two parallel universes we seem to live in, such distinctions don't come as easily.

We have no choice but to live in what seems to be this rather chaotic mix, unless we discover some way to neutralize the places that are so inky and we are so unable to see through it, that it significantly diminishes our existence.

The war of the words

It would be nice to wave a magic wand, and twist reality into delectable pretzels. Alas, the thing is not only not as edible as we'd like, but also quite intransigent – try as we might, it stubbornly resists our efforts to move it this way or that.

So, not to be outdone in our battle against reality what do we do? We fill our quivers with the pointed arrows of words, prepared to launch an all-out assault on our archenemy, reality. And who wins this war? Alas, again. Much as we would like to emerge the victor in this fight for survival, we are able to do little more than delude ourselves a bit here and a bit there, while reality smiles indulgently upon us, playing seasoned adult to our fantasy-filled child.

And why is this so? Words are powerful after all, are they not? Have we not vigorously asserted every now and then, over the centuries, “The pen is mightier than the sword"? Do we not see the power of the media, even today, as they expertly turn words to spin things in strange ways that would evoke every quantum physicist's admiration, and raise every politician's hackles?

Journalists are not the only ones with pens though.

I write, therefore I am (right)

The beauty of words is that you never have to be wrong. You can do absolutely anything that you want, and, as long as you are a decent marksman, just pull out a word-arrow from your quiver and let the arrow fly true to your target to move the reality to wherever your pleasure asks for it to be relocated to.

But how does one become a decent marksman? Surely those who do not go to journalism school don't have the same word-crafting skills as those who do? Ah, but we underestimate ourselves. We all have much more of a solid foundation in the art of speaking and writing than we may realize. We learn this dark art, much as we do, walking. We observe others, more skilled at this art of spin than we are, over years and years of childhood and adolescence. And we learn. Yes, a bit of fancy vocabulary helps to bamboozle the formally unschooled with a bit of nerve-shattering bombast so that we can get the better of them in public jousts of argument. However, when we argue with ourselves, the two sides are evenly matched – neither has the advantage, and both are home teams. We are perfectly capable of doing whatever we wish to with words when it is a me-versus-me winner-takes-all match.

So I can do “X" and call it “Y", whether I am trained in journalism or in multi-variable algebra. Do you know how brilliantly I argued the heck out of my less articulate colleague? And now, he goes around in slanderous mode, telling all and sundry that I am unreasonable and highly argumentative. The nerve of it! But as any objective onlooker would have been able to see, had one been present at the scene of the exchange, I just happen to be a very “logical" person. Why, I daresay, in this particular instance, I was even “kind".

I could have used stronger words from my treasure chest of power words, but with the tempered hand that comes from years of experience, I drew upon words that were merely adequate to the task – no more and no less – of educating my less informed colleague.

Two rights may make a wrong!

There's something that feels a bit hollow about these kinds of self-characterizations and self-calibrations though. Somehow, the expressions I use, even though they seem to position things the way I would like to, seem to leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. Maybe being “right" is overrated? Maybe I wasn't so kind after all? Maybe my colleague was right, and I am just an argumentative #@!& rather than the logic-man I try to tell myself I am?

If we stop to look, we may find that there are many, many instances where we are able to act as judge, jury and executioner and always skew things in a direction that makes us feel good about ourselves, and about things associated with ourselves. And, sometimes it could be the opposite too, when we are in a different mood – and seek tragedy. It is possible to take the best and brightest thing and turn it into trash with a poison pen … or tongue.

It seems just plain wrong to keep writing junk fiction! For that is what an unsheathed pen allows us to do: to write unmitigated nonsense, and create lots of friction, within and without.

Write less, live more

How about this? I'll stop writing nonsensical fiction and stop being a politician and lawyer rolled into one. I know I can spin the world so that North becomes South, and the sun can set in the East and rise in the West, with a stroke of my elegant pen. But the fiction doesn't seem to help in leading a rich life. The pen seems to produce poverty. Put the pen down, I say! It's time to live. Fictionlessly. And frictionlessly.

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Balaji Prasad is an IIT/IIM graduate, a published author, SAT/ACT Online and Offline Coach, interview, resume, and career coach at NewCranium. Contact: 704.746.9779 or balaji.prasad@newcranium.com