Wisdom in the Ambiguity.

October 25, 2020

Wisdom in the Ambiguity.

May 29, 2023

Warning: this next sentence is bawdy. In an episode of The Simpsons, when Marge was about to board a ship, Smithers said, “'I think women and seamen don't mix." Of course, double entendres have been with us for centuries. Even Shakespeare used them in “Romeo and Juliet” (Google “bawdy hand”).

But, then, there are words that have double meanings that may be a sign of the times or a function of context. In these cases, it takes some wisdom to see the paradox in the ambiguity and to determine intent. Here are three words that are relevant to and provocative for our times.

Grounded.” If you were grounded as a teenager, it meant you’d upset your parents (maybe we’ve upset the Gods?). Most pilots I know hate being grounded. But I’ve heard a lot of people say that this summer really grounded them. Many of us have appreciated rediscovering our immediate environment and our neighbors. To be grounded is to be real, even if real is really painful at times.

Settle.” Sometimes we belittle a romantic relationship when we ask our friend, “Why are you settling for him (her)?” To settle is to compromise, to cut back one’s expectations. To be settled can also mean too much comfort which can breed apathy. And, yet, after a jostling rollercoaster year like 2020, I want my stomach to settle. And, we take pride in our courageous settlers who have pioneered geographies, justice, and industries. How can we create a life of “settling” that can be both courageous and comforting at the same time?

Privilege.” Growing up in a white neighborhood, I never heard the word “privilege” until I went to a public high school where I was a racial minority (I was known as “curious white boy” at Long Beach Poly High School). I loved being there but I always hated when people used the word “under-privileged” to describe many of my classmates of color. But, no doubt, I didn’t mind having a big serving of privilege offered to me until I read an essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and realized how simple my life was as a member of the dominant demographic. I still grimace when I hear the word “privilege” these days because it feels like people are sometimes saying I was unfairly “over-privileged” like I did something wrong. But, when I have that emotional reaction, I just remember this one line that says it all, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression.” That sentence speaks volumes about where the U.S. is today.

To give this subject one last lighter perspective, check out comedian Dave Chapelle’s humorous story (a regular at my first hotel, the Phoenix) that depicts white privilege at the expense of his friend, Chip. LOL.

Words contain wisdom. It is the wise soul who can tease out just the right intention of a word that has multiple meanings.

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