By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 4 Jan 2022

The coins of consciousness.

Life without hope.  Photo by Lamar Beina from pexels

I’ve noticed among people of poor means and education, people with a working vocabulary of only a few thousand words, that they apply the same few phrases to situations radically different when some trouble befalls them, often cursing in a way that only expresses frustration, not summing up or explaining the event so that emotions can begin to soothe or be contained. And their inability to express themselves only frustrates them more, pacing the floor and venting their anger in the same few words, with no resolution.

To me this represents the closest thing to a living hell as I can imagine, being powerless, living in a ghetto, unable to explain or communicate or digest one’s daily feelings of defeat and hopelessness.

Imagine some poor, small time dealer in the hood, standing under a streetlight in the night. Someone assails him from behind, whacks him on the head and runs off with his small wad and gets away before he can see the assailant. He walks the blocks in circles saying ‘F.. this’ over and over, in his futile search, to himself as he has no trusted friends. He only angers and frustrates himself more, with no clue what to do, only a vague sense of bad luck, his misery and the wretched condition he’ll never escape. If he has a wife he can only go home and vent the same blind anger on her, stressing their relationship.

With a larger vocabulary comes a wider range of thinking skills. He might think of who did it, how to repair the loss, how to prevent it from happening again, with a weapon or a different hang-out, not so exposed. He could re-examine each detail of what went wrong, reform his methods, become more savvy to the traps of his enemies. He could tell his story to those who work with him in this positive tone and gain some sympathy from them, or advice and the respect that he doesn’t give up.

Or he might consider another profession for himself, a job outside his ghetto. So with more thought he turns this loss into a lesson and pleases his spouse and mates. He could turn this hurt into profit, a lesson gained. But for that you need the words to think things through, see clearly, make and explain plans and begin to execute them. His emotions, his vibes, will also turn from night to day, influencing those around him.

But all this requires words, the building blocks of all thinking. And with enough words and a comprehension of their shades of meaning the mind can think critically, dissect situations and events into pro’s and con’s. A person is no longer the one word ‘asshole’ or ‘bitch’, but a person of good and bad qualities. The asshole is a thief and liar but a great fighter and maybe a faithful ally if you befriend him. The bitch screams at most but that too can be charmed and courted with the right words.

The bigger our vocabulary, if used with skill, the more we define and categorize experiences to our satisfaction, put them in context, digest them and actually control them. This process of critical thinking is healing, so there’s a double resolution for soul and mind.

I think the English language, for the educated classes, reached its apogee of power in the Victorian era and has declined since. The prose of Macaulay, of Newman and Mill, books such as Crabb’s synonyms show an accuracy and polish we don’t even aim at anymore. They had a scalpel sharp ability to dissect and define any question, and put it to rest. When we look at the lives of those who possessed this intellectual prowess, two words come to mind, composure, and control.

It’s the opposite of rage and frustration, expressed in oaths that are applied to everything and have no meaning. To look at a poor youth today and one of them, you would assume they were two different species. The gulf is huge. But education can bridge it, and reading is the portal. I don’t know why we don’t strive harder to empower our children with this gift.

The reward of wide reading is a fund of knowledge that enhances all experience, allows you to see the many sides of everything. It makes a mind that sees in myriad colors what others view as grey and dreary. It gives muscle to thought and can punch through hypocrisy and false logic and the twisted, self-serving lies of others. And it gives one a thousand examples of lives lived, of choices for oneself, far outside the box of the usual, setting one on a course to a life well lived.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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