Archive for April, 2012

Chauvet Horses, 30,000 years old

An individual human life can range from moments to a century.  Yet even a century is a heartbeat when the entire span of human history is imagined.  I am reading a book on the Siege of Malta and the Battle of Lepanto, two events that spanned decades, but in hindsight can be analyzed and discussed in an evening.  It made me think about the complexity of existence and how limited a single lifetime can be, even one that is long and filled with adventure.  It still can represent only a fraction of what is possible, or what has been.

If we imagine that every human life is a book, and that each book is kept in a library, then the magnitude of human experience can be visualized.  This library is too big to explore.  Even condensed into a single volume titled “The History of Civilization” would be too limited.  An individual could not read all those books in his or her lifetime.  In order to get a full understanding of what it means to be human, there must be Art.

Art is a form of communication that can condense human experience into a flash of comprehension and even “experience”.  This is the big “Art” that includes music and dance and architecture and all forms of human expression.  Without these elements of culture, each human life would just be a brief replay of eating and sleeping.

When you look at art (or listen) your brain is encouraged to Grok Fully a message from one mind to another.  Time becomes meaningless.  The images of the horses in the Chauvet cave speak to us now.  The spoken language of the artist is as dead as he is, yet this language of beauty and truth will never disapear.  30,000 years is nothing.  And everything.  It is now.  You can see it.  Now.

Concepts can be communicated as well.  Here is something remarkable that needs no words in any language to communicate in mere moments the entire history of human war:

Picasso 1937 Guernica

This is not just one war, but all wars.

And this is not just one man, but the idea of man:

Michaelangelo's David

And woman

Da Vinci's Mona Lisa

And music.  Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is an audible representation of being human.  In one short hour you can be infused with every human emotion there is.  You want to know what sadness sounds like?  Joy? Love?  Tenderness? Hatred and anger? For $1.29 you can listen to centuries of collected human emotion on your portable listening device.  What does Hope look like?  Fear?  Love? Museums are filled with sculpture that will show you.  Here is something we all can understand:

Rodin "The Kiss"

And this is a tomb.  We can understand in one eyeblink the brief breath of one woman’s life and the eternity of this monument and see the love of a man for his wife:

And not to forget film and theatre and literature too.  Can’t forget fiction!  Exploring what being fully human means has been a common theme since The Metamorphoses of Apuleius.

Why are we here?  What does it all mean? We want to know.  We have to know.

A life without Art is a life lived alone.


Bladerunner. "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

Art is forever.  Life is brief.


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My son asked me today, “How do you teach patience and perseverence?”   Apparently he knew someone who needed to learn and my son wanted to teach them.

I said, “Those qualities cannot be taught.”

So then he asked, “Then how did I learn them?”

Mind you, he is 22 years old, and I thought of the witty retort: “it takes time and effort to teach patience and perseverence”, but the truth is that he had learned these things by the time he was he was 5.   I tried to remember teaching my children.  I realized that what I taught them were the attributes that are required before patience and perseverence can be developed.  Then they developed those skills by themselves.  I was raised in a military family, so I learned early on never to shirk responsibility or shift blame.  Those were shameful behaviors that my parents snuffed out pretty darn quick.

My kids were taught that they are responsible for what happens to them.  This cause-and-effect lesson can be painful, but is necessary.  When they fell down or hurt themselves my first reaction was to say, “Slow down and watch where you are going.”  They put their own band-aids on.  When they were sick they were put to bed with juice and told to sleep.  There was absolutely no coddling.  Nowadays this would be considered child abuse by parents who think their children need to be worshipped as gods.  I am thinking now of parents whose children see a doctor when their noses run, or who call their teachers to complain when their child fails a test.

After some years of this training, my kids rarely sported skinned knees or colds lasting more than a day.  They never played illness or injury as if it were an advantage.  Even now when they are all adults they watch where they are going and go to bed uncomplaining with juice if they are sick.

Disappointments were handled the same way.  I never told them that the disapointment was caused by someone or some circumstance.  I always said, “Why didn’t you do X?” or “Why didn’t you try harder?” and  “You will get it next time if you work at it.”

So by emphasizing that they were responsible for what happens to them, they learned patience and perseverence all by themselves.

I reminded my son of the opening 10 minutes of Kung Fu.  I told him that Caine came to the monastery as a child, not with a clean slate, but having already learned patience and perseverence.  The boys who were dismissed had not. Caine waited outside the gates for a week, then longer, then in the rain…and then the important clincher: “After you, honorable sir.”

I told him to show his friend that film and perhaps it might help.  Those who are extremely self-centered cannot think beyond their personal space.  They cannot be patient because they want what they want right now.  They cannot persevere because if they can’t get what they want, they abandon the goal or try to get someone else to get it for them.  And…they seem to be always whining.

How to teach them to release the ego?  How do you teach someone he or she is not the center of the universe?  Hard to do if they have been taught that they ARE since birth.

When there is so much to overcome, there is an “aha” moment when folks do “get it”.  There is a moment like that in Kung Fu as well.  The child Caine asks the blind monk Po, “Old man, how is it that you hear these things?” and Po replies, “Young man…how is it that you do not?”

You can see the “aha” in Caine’s eyes.

I told my son to give the DVD to his friend and cross his fingers.

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