Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Facing The Unspeakable:

Malala, Greta, Nelson

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa
California, USA

February 24 and March 3, 2022

"There won't be an earthquake because I say  there won't be an earthquake. And if I change my mind, you'll know because you'll hear the rumble." ... 
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear." ... President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt
This essay, Facing The Unspeakable: Malala, Greta, Nelson, is the companion piece to War Stories.

It was written at the same time as War Stories (working title).

I am indebted to my daughter Alexandra Lindsey Platt and to my niece Judith Marina Haupt and to my sister Anthea "Anth" Sarah Platt Haupt and to Sanford "Sandy" Robbins and to Malala Yousafzai Malik and to Greta Thunberg and to Nelson Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Madiba Tata (uBawom)Khulu Mandela who inspired this conversation.

We human beings expect certainty. That said, life doesn't promise and has never promised certainty. What's certain about life is that it's uncertain. And when events occur which disrupt our expectation of certainty, they disrupt our lives. Yet look back, and you'll see that long before any and all disruptive events produced uncertainty, life was always uncertain. We've known this forever. We just don't focus on it ie it's out of sight until something happens that disrupts our expectation of certainty, a disruption that speaks eloquently to how much we expect certainty, never mind the fact that life doesn't promise and has never promised certainty.

So: life is uncertain, yet we expect certainty, and in the face of uncertainty, our lives are disrupted. That's the way it happens. Question: could it be that the disruption results from us mis-conceptualizing the certainty of what's so / what happens, more than it results from what's so / what happens itself directly?

We also expect predictability. But look: nothing  none of the paperwork in the packages our lives came in, promised or guaranteed predictability. Yet we expect it. We've set up our lives as if only for assumed-to-be-predictable events. And when unpredictable events occur, our lives are disrupted. So again the question: are we disrupted more by the unpredictable events themselves, or by the thwarting of our expectations that events should be certain, predictable, and above all, humane?

When our lives are disrupted by uncertainty and unpredictable events to the point where we can't talk about them, we say the unspeakable  has occurred. That's the ordinary view. But look: it may not be so. What may be so ie the extraordinary view, is that because we don't grant being to uncertainty and unpredictability and the unspeakable, our lives are disrupted when they happen. Yet they were never off the cards to begin with. Hey, ask the dinosaurs about life's certainty / predictability!

Granting being to life's uncertainty, unpredictability, even its inhumaneness, doesn't condone unspeakable events. Rather it's a stand that neither consoles nor justifies the unspeakable. Instead it creates a stone-cold, flat-footed platform on which to stand, from which to choose who we're going to be in the face of  the unspeakable. Uncertain and disruptive circumstances are what's so, over which we have limited if no choice at all. We do however have choice over who we'll be  in the face of them. And that  is arguably our only access to what's discontiguously possible ie arguably our only access to what makes a difference in the face of the unspeakable.

Malala Yousafzai Malik was shot in the face by a would-be Taliban assassin for her "crime" of being a woman and a voice for women's rights, education (especially the education of women and children), and humanitarian causes. It was what she did after she recovered that demonstrates how extraordinary she is, retaining her choice over who she would be  in the face of the unspeakable, becoming who some have called "the most famous teenager in the world", a Nobel Prize laureate, and arguably Pakistan's most prominent citizen. That's neither a certain nor a predictable outcome given her circumstances. Rather it's an outcome that's only possible in the realm of who we choose to create ourselves to be in the face of the unspeakable.

Greta Thunberg was a young teenager when she took on climate-change skeptics and deniers three and four times her age, choosing to speak for / be a demand for the future sustainability of our planet. As global events go, climate-change will have serious if not catastrophic consequences which, for the most part, will happen with or without our consent. What makes Greta unique is the stand she is ie who she creates herself to be in the face of climate-change: a powerful spokesperson rather than merely just another guy in a diner with an opinion. Opinions may contribute to the climate-change debate yet they make no difference at all in the long term. It's who we are  ie who we create ourselves to be, which makes a difference beyond opinion. In the face of unspeakable catastrophic climate change, making a powerful impact starts with who we choose to be in the face of the unspeakable. Our opinions, our fear, and even knowing better  make no difference whatsoever.

Nelson Mandela was dubbed "Troublemaker" by his primary school teacher which, for the white South African racist regime, proved to be extraordinarily apt. Look: how do you make a difference when you're black in a white, racist South Africa where all opposition leaders are jailed if not summarily executed? How do you survive thirty years of imprisonment, most of it in solitary confinement, and not come to resent your captors? How do you take on Life itself in the face of such disruption? Nelson stood apart from many who took on the uncertainty and unpredictability of the circumstances, and instead chose to be  the end of apartheid in the face of the unspeakable. His being  was (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Apartheid will end because I say so.". Did that work? Moreover: can  it work? Well ... look what happened.

It's not altering the circumstances, as unspeakable, as uncertain, and as unpredictable as they may be, which restores power to our lives, even when there's no doubt  that the unspeakable should be altered. It's taking a stand for who we'll be in the face of the unspeakable, the uncertain, the unpredictable that empowers us. Circumstances are what they are, whatever  they are. Some shouldn't  happen ... and they do; some should be different ... and they aren't; we should do something about all of them before it's too late ... yet we don't. What robs us of our power is our thwarted expectation of already always certain, predictable, humane, fair circumstances. In the face of the unspeakable, the only thing over which we have any power (and it just so happens that it's the gamechanger) is choosing who we'll be in the face of what's so, in the face of the circumstances, even and especially in the face of the unspeakable, the horrific, the uncertain.

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