A Musing on Realization

Every now and then some little bit of information, a phrase or a sentence read, or a scene in a film will prompt a sudden realization. Not the kind of realization experienced by the theoretical physicist Richard Feynman at the moment he made the discovery that won him the Nobel prize. His was a sense of wonderment that he willingly shared when he described his amazement at knowing something of significance that, at least for the moment, no one else knew. From that one gets some sense of the experience of great discovery.
No, not that. Just something that seems to expand one's horizon, push it back a little farther.

There's a scene in the 1991 movie Black Robe that prompted, at least for me, a thought not previously held. The scene is out—of—doors in the early days of the French exploration of the Great Lakes. Two Indian guides are watching as a Frenchman writes in his diary. They ask what it is that the French are doing when they make such marks upon paper.

Rather than just explain, the writer decides to show them. He asks one of the Indians to tell him something that another, nearby Frenchman couldn't possibly know. The Indian responds with a story about his mother and an entry regarding this is written onto a page. The inquisitive native is told to take the diary to the other Frenchman and ask him to say what is there. This the Indian does and is stunned when the reader speaks what the Indian knows that he could have not. The Indian and his companion now suspect that the French are devils for this must be witchcraft.

This is a moment of discovery for the Indians when they learn that paper can speak. A moment of realization for me when I get an inkling of how such realizations must have impacted primitives as they collided with civilization.

One's experiences and view of the world certainly have great impact on what one thinks, feels or believes. When that experience is contradicted even by the evidence of one's own eye, realization may not come easily if at all. Consider African tribesmen who have lived their entire lives within the confines of the deepest, darkest rain forests. Never, other than in the clearings made for their villages, have they ever seen more than a few yards into the dense vegetation. When brought to the edge of a precipice overlooking a plane populated by grazing animals, they find it impossible to grasp the scale and distances before them. They think they are looking at ants.

If one has never before seen a thing, one may manage to grasp it only in familiar terms as if clinging to a life buoy.

I get the sense that many of those who, for fee or free, sing their discouraging tunes regarding the fertility of Middle Eastern soil for planting freedom's seed, are the ones seeing ants. I know the issues are legion, the discussions interminable, the passions high, and often it all seems so hopeless.

But on occasion another tidbit happens by and therein I come by another realization. Consider the following from Ralph Peters' New York Post article:

We also made some early misjudgments — for one, overestimating Iraqis' ability to manage sophisticated technologies. We brought in gas turbines whose control systems were beyond the local engineers' technical skills. (One U.S. official tells of showing computer models to a middle—aged Iraqi who broke down in tears as he realized his professional life had been wasted under Saddam — his country had missed the entire microchip revolution.)

That nearly brought me to tears — a middle—aged man realizing that his professional life has been a waste. What a devastating experience that would be. And I couldn't help but believe that there are far more Iraqis with a hunger to know, to achieve, to live, and to enjoy their children's children than there are jihadis with a death wish. How easy is it for us to not realize wherein lies the wellspring of our joy — freedom.

Even if the American electorate did vote strictly to remove WMD from Iraq and not to go on a freedom march through the Middle East, I cannot believe that we would now wish to abandon the Iraqis and their children who for so long have had eyes filled with tears.