Man got to tell himself he understand

I have this recent ongoing obsession with oversimplification.  A new friend of mine was telling me about the atrocities committed by the Japanese during their forced occupation of Korea in general terms and I said to him ‘Cut to the chase; give me one solid atrocity to wrap my heard around, anecdotize, and transmit efficiently the next time the subject comes up.  Make me think I understand this issue in its entirety.’

Then I wrote the post about Cat’s Cradle in which I quoted the poem by fictitious religious guru Bokonon which reads:

Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?”

Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.

The idea’s been rattling around the front of my brainpan ever since, and I’ve managed to remember a very specific example of this from my own life.  I was a callow young man of twenty-one, fresh off the boat from America and just becoming acquainted with Korea.  I was hanging out with a Korean friend and I asked her to teach me some of my first Korean words and phrases.  Already tiring of  ‘Assa!’ (‘Yes!’), my favorite word at the time, I asked my friend what the Korean word for ‘cool’ was, and she said it was ‘meosisseo’ (멋있어).  She added the caveat that the word more accurately could be translated as ‘looks cool’.

My reaction at the time was

‘That’s so typical of such a superficial culture, that the only word for ‘cool’ would only refer to appearance.’

Wouldn’t you just have slapped me?  I mean, the hubris, the self-assured confidence that I, within two months of arriving in Korea, had figured the place out, and that I was already poised to pass judgment.

This is more than just an exercise in confessional self-loathing.  I think it’s fair to say that many if not most people start out this way.  Give me anecdotes to match my preconceived notions.  The less you know, the more clear most issues appear.  If I know two facts, I can draw a little line between them and infer the rest.  If I learn a constellation of facts, some contradicting others, groups of them pointing towards one conclusion while other groups point in the opposite direction, I am much more likely to recognize the limits of my knowledge and perhaps even the limits of knowledge itself.  Some things can’t be known, and the best we can do is form our own little opinions and champion them in the court of public opinion and caucus people over to our table.  There’s nothing wrong with that fact, and it shouldn’t be denied because it’s unpleasant.  We still ought to push and publicize our ideas and beliefs, but we ought to come at the whole process with a little more perspective, and a little less judgment perhaps.  And we most certainly should keep our big mouths shut until we actually have something to say.  And yes, I do consider that last sentence ironic.

~ by Joshing on March 21, 2008.

2 Responses to “Man got to tell himself he understand”

  1. life like the sun
    every day rises
    bright , shine ,clean ,warm , high , and full feel

    think of your self like the sun every day malikg new sprits .

  2. If only more than 33 people could hear this.

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