“Language figures in human life in many ways. We inform, we request, we persuade, we interrogate, we orate, and sometimes we just schmooze. But the most remarkable thing we do with language is learn it in the first place.”
—Steven Pinker in The Stuff of Thought
Psychologist, cognitive scientist, and linguist Steven Pinker says that language is the greatest of our human faculties, “ubiquitous across the species, unique in the animal kingdom, inextricable from social life and from the mastery of civilization and technology, devastating when lost or impaired.”
I’m going to take a break from the rather depressing domestic and international political scene and present to you a couple of really remarkable, and remarkably uplifting, stories via YouTube. Both of the videos below have to do with forms of human communication and interaction and will together take you less than 20 minutes to watch. I promise it will be worth your time.
Last night 60 Minutes paid tribute to a journalist’s journalist, Bob Simon, who was killed in an auto accident in New York City recently. One of the featured stories was one I had not seen before. Simon reported on a place called Cateura, which is a town in Paraguay that was essentially built near a large landfill so that its residents could rummage through the garbage and harvest something of value. Needless to say, Cateura is one of the poorest places in South America.
But what Simon’s story reveals is just what amazing creatures we human beings can be, especially when someone with an idea—and the will to carry it out—comes on the scene and brings the light of a radical and transformative hope, a hope that a better, fuller life is within reach. You will hear the words that summarize the work of Favio Chavez: “Go on, send us your garbage. We’ll send it back to you as music.” Watch:
The next story, only four minutes long, is equally inspiring. Before you watch it, let me give you a basic definition of the word “language”:
the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other
“To express thoughts and feelings to each other.” But what if you had never had that experience? What if you were 15 years old and had never expressed any thoughts or feelings to anyone? In the video below you will meet a young man named Patrick Otema, who was born deaf in a remote part of Uganda. You will also meet a saint of a man, Raymond Okkelo, who, like Favio Chavez did in Cateura, Paraguay, also brought the light of radical hope to desperate people. In the face of Patrick Otema, you will literally see what that radical hope looks like:
In both of these stories you can see how Favio Chavez and Raymond Okkelo are really doing the same thing: bringing the gift of higher humanity, of civilization, to their fellow human beings. And after several days of listening to Republicans question the patriotism and religious beliefs of Barack Obama, after years of listening to them tell me how much he wants to destroy the country, I needed some inspiration.