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


Through Spanish Ears

Calle Andrés Mellado, Madrid, Spain

October 8, 2010



This essay, Through Spanish Ears, is the companion piece to Language Barrier.

It is the second in a group of four written in Madrid, October 2010:
  1. Miles And Miles And Miles
  2. Through Spanish Ears
  3. River Of People
  4. Tengo Un Regalo Para Ti
in that order.

I am indebted to Jerome Downes who inspired this conversation.




If you speak English but not Spanish and your host speaks Spanish but not English and you don't have an interpreter, there's not much you can talk about.

On the other hand, if you do have an interpreter, there's really a lot  you can talk about - almost anything in fact. But even if you do have an interpreter, the reality is conversations lose something in translation. Translating nuances conveyed by language requires going way beyond just matching a word in one language exactly with the corresponding word in another language. There's the entire set of "between the lines"  implications of language which travel more with the culture  they originate in than with the dictionary  used to translate them.

How are they  translated? How do you translate the "between the lines" implications of a language so the experience  it communicates travels through the translated language and is gotten the same way as it was originally spoken? Is this class of communication even possible?  Is the best you can hope for, to hear a close approximation of ie to hear a good enough for jazz  "in the ballpark" version of the communicated experience, similar to but not an exact recreation of what was originally spoken? If it's only similar to  an experience, then it's not an exact recreation of the experience. But if it's not an exact recreation of the experience, then it's not communication.



Dinner With Intention



My daughter and I are invited to dinner in Madrid, Spain. We sit down with our host at a neatly laid table. I feel immediately at home, offering a nice bottle of Napa Valley wine to propose a toast. The three of us have the following language skills between us: our host speaks only Spanish, my daughter speaks Spanish and English, I speak only English. And the very first question our host asks me in Spanish (which my daughter translates) is "What are Conversations For Transformation? What is transformation?".

My brief moment of surprise ends when I realize my daughter has told our host about me before I arrived. Very quickly I settle into the challenge of speaking the intentionality and the inspiration behind Conversations For Transformation. It's the challenge given by me not speaking Spanish communicating with a woman not speaking English. There's not one moment of doubt this conversation will actually go ahead. I'm not looking for a way out because of the language barrier. I'm just wondering if it will work.

I trust my daughter's skill translating between English and Spanish. I'm just wondering if the nuances of Conversations For Transformation will remain intact through the translation. I'm wondering if our host will get transformation through the translation. In the normal course of events, transformation is communicated through language. Most experiences I have of this working is when everyone in the conversation speaks the same language. What will happen this time, I wonder, given neither of us speak the same language?

The first thing I realize is if this is going to work, I have to keep it simple. This is secondarily with deference to my daughter's translating skills which I can support by not having her run for a dictionary with every phrase and sentence I utter. It's primarily because I'm present to communicating transformation as the shortest distance between two points  ie as the shortest distance between two people. It's face to face, person to person, and it's immediate. I vow to myself to maintain eye contact, and to not wax lyrical.

My first offering is "Transformation is no more blaming.".

Now, whether or not that's true  (and it may be) isn't the point really. The point is there's a shift  for people when they stop blaming Life, circumstances, and other people for the quality of their lives, which comes with transformation, and I'm interested if my opening bid, if you will, will strike a chord because if it does, then I know how to proceed.

My daughter translates, and our host and she engage in conversation. I wait patiently, wondering if she'll get it. Suddenly our host breaks away from conversing in Spanish with my daughter. Her eyes lock on mine, and she continues speaking in Spanish but now she's speaking to me directly. She gets it! My daughter translates and she gets it, and she's not speaking to me through the translation anymore. Now she's speaking to me directly.

My next bid (now I'm leading with aces - I quickly realize there's no sense holding back) is this: "Until you complete what happened in the past, it runs you and will repeat itself over and over and over again until you complete it.". Slightly more time is required this time for the translation. And again, our host looks at my daughter for the gist of the translation, and once she gets it, she looks directly at me again, and this time something visible has opened up for her.

The lines on her forehead have melted, like they've been air brushed  out. She has a look of excitement on her face, like a child who is shown something fascinating for the first time. She is, by the way (I get it from her animation  during the translation), totally clear  about being run by what happened in the past until she completes it. This, however, may be the first time she's had a conversation about it - so clearly, so directly, so explicitly. And certainly, this is the first time she's had a conversation about it from English to Spanish and back again.

The conversation goes on this way for another hour or so over a hearty dinner of stew with sips of maestro  Nils Venge's Cabernet Sauvignon. My concerns are gone. This can  be done, given the willingness of an interpreter who's also grounded in the distinctions of transformation (my daughter is a graduate).

There's one more point I'd like to be made known, and it's this: "When the past is complete, it no longer contaminates  the future, which opens up the future for a life of creating new possibilities rather than always being trapped in reacting to the past.". As soon as I say it and my daughter, without missing a beat, launches into the translation, I'm concerned

a)  this concept  is too heady  without sufficient background, and

b)  the word "contaminates" may not go well in translation.

I wait as they exchange, and then as she's always done when she's gotten  a piece of transformation, our host breaks off from my daughter and continues to speak but now directly at me. And I'm clear: she gets exactly  to which I refer.

It's awesome. It really is. I realize I've seen it before - many times in fact. I've seen it watching Werner deliver his work to groups of hundreds  of people at once who don't speak English. I've seen it watching my friend Jerome deliver Werner's work in Tokyo Japan to groups of hundreds  of people at once who only speak Japanese (Jerome spoke English through an interpreter). So I know it works. But I wasn't the one delivering it. This time I am. But not in Japanese. In Spanish. And Spanish ears hear it. It gets to each person through Spanish ears. Just as it gets to each person through Japanese ears. Just as it gets to each person through English ears. It occurs to me transformation, while communicated  by language, isn't dependent on a  language. The fact that transformation is universal  for all human beings defying the so-called language barrier sends thrills up and down my spine, and moves me deeply.



Grace After The Meal



I wash the dishes - because I enjoy  washing dishes. There's no sense of obligation or duress here. From the kitchen I see our host using a Spanish web browser with which she's accessed Conversations For Transformation online. The Spanish web browser has translated Conversations For Transformation into Spanish as "Conversaciones para la Transformación". The thought "I can't believe what I'm seeing"  pops into my mind as I dry the dishes and set them on a rack. But there it is, right before my startled eyes: she's reading Conversaciones para la Transformación in Spanish. In fact, she's pointing to the photograph of Werner, asking my daughter who he is.

As I rinse down the now empty sink, I overhear my daughter, unprompted, saying he's a friend of mine who inspires me to write Conversations For Transformation (I know enough Spanish to understand that much).



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