By: Teda Kokoneshi
Freedom… and we all opened our eyes and started to draw. I didn’t look around to see what everybody else was doing but I had this impression that nobody else did either. It was more or less immediate. In one minute or two, Dr. Lisa Falvey signaled time was out and we all stood up. That couple of minutes spent drawing, was compressed for me. In just circa 120 seconds, I had to first translate a very abstract notion such as freedom into something physical, and then represent it using paper and ink, and my not decent drawing abilities. If you do the math it turns out to be a dense moment in terms of mental energy: lots of it spent in abstract-concrete translation (and some in motor-skills to draw too). Before you go ahead reading the rest of this writing I’ll ask you to stop and think about what you would draw if you were in the same situation. Would you please be courteous and grab pencil/pen/eyeliner and a piece of paper and actually materialize your concept of freedom? Unfortunately I can’t promise you’ll get Engl 1207 credit for this (that’s the class where this took place), but I guarantee you that you’re still in advantage by getting a taste of the experience we have in Dr. Falvey’s class. And you haven’t even paid for it…
Ok, minus or plus 2 minutes passed? Finished ? In a little bit you’ll judge on my skills in magic… Going back to my Wednesday Critical Speech Communication class, I was very curious to see other people’s drawings. I expected them to be pretty diverse. Freedom is such an abstract concept, right? People’s representations of it vary largely based on their past experience, individuality, and what not…right? That’s what I expected… So what had my classmates drawn? Oh, I think now is the right time to show you what a good magician I am. So here we go…get ready… Without even seeing it, WITHOUT EVEN BEING IN THE SAME ROOM YOU ARE… I posses knowledge about your thoughts …and actions! How impressive (scary, yeahhh) is that? Let’s start… I see stripes….and stars….I see stripes and stars…It’s a banner, a flag. It’s the American flag!!!
-“Aww!”- you sigh. And if you are feeling content with yourself because I was not able to guess, well, I think you’re a minority.
Now, as nontraditional as this maybe, I will reveal the trick. (Who am I trying to fool here? If you read the previous paragraphs you already know). Take notice that this is not unprecedented. Magician Peter Boie too revealed his tricks August 30th at the Emmanuel College Auditorium.
The trick is this: Teda Kokoneshi (that’s me), less than one month before the 517th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on October 21st 1942, discovers that many Americans visualize the concept of freedom with their flag. It may sound easily taken for granted to you, but to me, Albanian residing in the US for less than three years, it was an exciting little discovery that says much about words and the not so obvious roles they play in our making sense of the world.
It turned out that what for me was a concept that required much work of thought to be visualized, materialized, for some other people could be easily incarnated in something as material as a flag. My brain had materialized freedom by sketching a person (something as similar to a person as my drawing skills allowed me to) surrounded by chains that could not reach him. Most of the students in the class had materialized freedom in stripes and stars forming the U.S flag. It is attractively impressing to me how so many people would agree that stripes and stars mean freedom.
I love my Critical Speech Communication class because it so fascinatingly exposes me to the elasticity of language, to the elasticity of the word. It exposes me to how words say much more than their definition in a dictionary. For instance I don’t think there is any dictionary in any language that defines the respective word for freedom through means of the American flag. Yet circa 5/6 of the students in my Critical Communications class expressed through drawing that that’s their understanding of the term.
So how do we connect words to meanings? This creative idea of Dr. Falvey to make us use pen and paper to draw concepts helped me come to the conclusion that dictionary definitions, primary meanings, have a smaller role in understanding and communication in general than we might think.
In this class I’m studying different theories of communication. About half of them would maintain that words shape meaning, that they shape the world rather than the other way around. If this is true are we shaping the world any time we speak, or write, or even think? How powerful are we? And how much better can we make the world through our words? How much worse?
If I make any other little-big discovery through this class I’ll let you know. (I was so tempted to use the smiley face after the previous sentence but I know it’s not yet a formal punctuation mark).
Until then keep using language…in a way that makes this world exciting.