“Let live and make die or let die and make live” she said, her words pregnant with purpose. They embodied all the philosophy in the world. And there was no arguing with them, no speaking back. They demanded silence instead. A moment to take them in and swallow their sharp aftertaste. Words swollen with questions and tasked with finding and opening doors for humanity to walk through.
The people sat there nodding in agreement. Heads bobbing this way and that way in a dance of acquiescence. There was an understanding evident in the lines etched across their faces. Her words meant something to them. They had waited for words such as these and now that she had spoken them, they grabbed onto them like a lifeline.
I couldn’t figure out what she was saying. Even though I was in the audience, the message was not reaching me. It was neither the room nor the chair for I occupied these with a fortitude that was fully my own. Her words simply did not stay. They moved in and out of me. There was no soft place for them to land. I was at this conference and this is where I ended up – with no soft places for words. No home to offer for the things that matter to me. I walked in and out of rooms looking for myself. But it wasn’t that I was lost, it was simply that I was on the other side of things.
The intellect is a war machine…
These are the words I scribbled feverishly across the notebook as I listened to people present interesting papers, one after the other, varying across the landscape of knowledge.
As a world, we value intelligence. I couldn’t tell you why because I’m not sure I know the answer. It is a measure we were all born into. Intelligent people are appealing. They know things. And they can tell you things in words you never knew existed grabbing them as if from thin air. When they speak the room seems a little loftier and you are left feeling a little dumber. You realise just how much you don’t know.
But the intellect is today, a war machine. We use it to fight each other in arguments of the intelligentsia. We use it to fight the injustice that has besieged our world. We construct theories, stitching thoughts and concepts together to explain and make sense of the thing that eludes us the most: ourselves.
Sitting across people who were articulating the world in complex ideas of being and not being, I was struck by how we all seemed so complicated. Wrestling with notions and ideas at a level that didn’t reach the feet and hands; at a level that didn’t reach the heart. Words flung from one corner of the room to the other, sometimes breaking apart in mid air and shattering to the floor where they could not be put back together. I gaped and gawked. I was in a war zone and I had not realised it.
I don’t always feel intelligent.
And it is not even the first thing I look for when I open my eyes in the morning. My hand reaches to trace the patches of white clouds hanging in a blue sky visible through my window, I listen to the breathing in my body and the breathing outside of all living things that enters my room. I listen to the ache in my heart. These things reach me first and I forget about intelligence. The demand for it forcibly comes when I arrive at my work desk, “they are expecting you to show how intelligent you are with this work” my mind reminds me.
Maybe the purpose of the intellect is to hold the heart in place, the two twirling their fingers together, in love and loved by each other; the one incomplete without the other and incapable of finding the paths of justice.
To be intelligent and have heart is something akin to wisdom.
Wisdom. Maybe this is what we need in this war zone of figuring out the best way to be human. As one wise woman once said, “what we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being rather than knowing requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen. It requires us to dare greatly, to be vulnerable.”
And without wisdom we can be nothing but basic.