During a morning walk last week we stopped to read the notices in a shop window. While we perused an advertisement for a dance academy and a poster about some sort of upcoming festival, the proprietor came out and set down some boards along the wall. We thought they were more advertisements, but then realized that they were quotes. Here’s one that got me thinking:
A fair approximation of the message is this: “May you find the person that speaks your same language, so that you don’t have to spend your life translating your soul.”
At first reading, I thought, sure, that’s what everyone wants. My second thought was to back up a minute. From there, I began to look for more nuance.
If you consider the implications, the underlying message is not necessarily a healthy one—if the person you’re with doesn’t intuitively understand your soul without any interpretation from you, you should move on, keep looking!
El Guapo is my hombre, and I am his mujer, and yet there are many times when we don’t understand one another’s basic messages, let alone the deepest thoughts of our souls.
Sure, if you’re at the beginning of the “find a soulmate” phase, by all means, look for someone that can understand you on a deep level. But the idea you may have heard, “if you really loved me, you’d understand me without my having to spell it out,” is an insidious and destructive load of fertilizer.
I’m completely in favor of mutual understanding, even of souls communing. I just don’t swallow the idea that such understanding must be automatic for it to be valuable.
There is much to be gained from having to clarify one’s thinking enough to express it effectively. I return often to the quote that ran along the top edge of a classroom blackboard from my teenage years: “Writing makes a powerful contribution to thinking.” In other words, the work that expressing yourself in writing requires improves the quality of what you have to express.
In my mind, it follows that there are advantages that come from formulating your experiences in a way that someone else can understand them.
In thinking about translating your soul, maybe there’s something to be learned from the field that studies translating your thoughts into a language other than the one you grew up speaking.
There’s a fair amount of evidence that being able to speak more than one language confers certain gains on top of any practical advantages from being bilingual. This is from an editor’s note to an article titled, “The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual” (Cerebrum, 2012 Sep-Oct; 2012: 13):
Researchers have shown that the bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another. In addition, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.
I’m not exactly sure how these practical cognitive enhancements map onto the idea of translating your soul, but it gives me food for thought. Perhaps as I put in the effort required by deep communication, I’m strengthening my metaphysical executive function, whatever that might be.
What do you think?
[Images: El Guapo]