Friday, May 20, 2011


All creatures communicate with one another in some form. Elephants, whales, dolphins, other primates--even ants and bees--have developed the ability to effectively communicate basic information such as needs, fears, and emotions with others of their kind. But only Man--unless there is something we don't know yet--is the only one to have developed the skill to do so on so many levels.

Each of our means of communication--speech, music, writing, art--has it's own place in our culture and in our lives, and each has its own unique power. Museums are devoted to paintings and sculpture and artifacts which speak clearly and often with great emotion to us and present a singular view of our cultural history--though largely without words or speech. The oldest and most universal form of human communication is, of course, music, which speaks a non-verbal language which all can understand. Mankind has been making music for far longer than history can record, and unquestionably predates spoken languages. We were scrawling on cave walls and making small figures out of stone and clay while our verbal communication skills were barely developing.

The development of spoken words and their gradual evolution into language is what truly branched us off from the other animals. Putting spoken words into symbols others could understand is a relatively new method of communication, but it is words, and especially the written word, which enable us to record our past, and therefore are unquestionably the most powerful form of communication available to our species.

Today we are inundated, often overwhelmed, by the various methods of communicating, and the advances of technology have exponentially exacerbated the situation. Every day of our lives we watch TV, or listen to music, or read, or email, or text, as well as communicating verbally with those around us.

But, technology's bells and whistles aside, probably the most basic of all form of human communication remains words. We almost never stop to consider, even for a moment, how vital language and written words are, not only to our species but to us as individual humans. There are those few of us who cannot read, or cannot speak, or cannot hear, but even they are nonetheless surrounded by words and language in some form and thereby not cut off from the rest of humanity.

Words appeal to our intellect; music and art, the other major and undeniable forms of communication, appeal to our soul.

Words and music are the most naturally compatible forms of communication, and again we never give a moment's thought to how astonishing the ability to combine the two is. The incredible power of combining words and music is all around us, and never more so evident for Americans than during a patriotic sing-along during 4th of July celebrations.

But the glorious power of words to move us, in songs, in poems, in stories and novels, is vastly under-appreciated. Words have the power to create pictures as vivid and beautiful as any painting, or as powerful as any sculpture. Writers are, in fact, artists who use words the way painters use colors, subtly shading or harshly contrasting, smoothly blended or rough-textured, and after having painted his/her word picture, becomes a type of sculptor, going back over the work to chisel away sections or paragraphs or sentences here, gently using a fine chisel to smoothing out a word or phrase there.

There is of course simply not enough time allotted to us to be able to fully appreciate everything in our lives that deserves appreciation, but to take a moment, every now and then, to give thought to one or two of them--to know that they are there--cannot help but enrich our lives.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

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