Monday Aphorism: Definitions

“Let’s define this clearly,” rings and rings in my inner senses as a teacher…but it seems all…wrong.

Say what “it” is: its parts, the whole, relationships; beginnings and the end!

Some sense, resonating still from Plato and ancient times, that clarity in definition is clarity in thinking is clarity into the truth of the world.

I, always a pedant assigning grades to everyone, want to forestall the definitions that seem to set every problem; clearly, certainly – as if we can always state what “it” is.

The world seems more complicated than mere naming or saying or thinking this is always so very clear. My students tempt me, dare me perhaps to say what “it” is. So I ask them broader questions like where we are, who are they, what time in history is this: questions which become unclear the moment they try to define them; defy more than define.

Background, context, is it even clear who their teacher is? Name, yes! Professor, the (as)signer of their syllabus. But, I as their teacher? A study in being…together. Any sense of towardness; toward their futures? Don’t definitions tend to enhance the past at the cost of the importance of the future (and the present)?

So much early effort, arriving at some apparent consensus, too early: before they know one another, too early in thinking, too gullible, too easily attached to remembering the premature definitions. Then…proceeding to bypass understanding through the filter of that definition. Or reject the definition, and adopt what seems to be its opposite. No more talk; except to talk. No more discussion; only mere discussion; surface. No depth, nor any sense that there is much deeper to go, or what paths we might embark on, or the various contexts in which any thing or idea arises.

“But, but,” I sputtered, still sputtering in its rethinking like Jacque Tati’s auto, foundering upon a chosen road, until it sputters off upon some other map of its own resolve. “But, we already agree on a host of things: we are here together, we all got here, we are here sitting with some rules of conduct and mutual treatment of where we are and how we got here and the why’s of our lives. Let’s find out who we are before we

cut life out of our definitions!”

Too easy, too liable to cut-off the paths of thinking which open minds to opening ideas to other minds, to…No, no definitions. Wonder, awe, surprise – out of these we will talk together. Teacher, students, who are we? Argue, debate, scream if we must. Clarity not in definitions, but a pursuit, a striving to be distilled from all the resonances of all the talk; near the end, upon rethinking, toward knowing, toward resolving, toward tomorrow, toward more meaning in our lives.

Definitions: more an end than a beginning.