Learning new words sharpens your thinking. And the connection between what your thinking and how you express it is not a one-way-street. There is an argument that says: if you can’t capture an idea, a ‘concept’, in a word or in words, it doesn’t really exist. You need language for reasoning.
“Discernment” is one of these new words I had to look up and learn, when I came across it reading about what happened 50 years ago in Czechoslovakia. When I looked the word up, they gave an example of its use: “an astonishing lack of discernment”.
My own description of what discernment means would be ‘common sense’, but it is much more than that. It’s a virtue that allows you to discover the real meaning of things and to determine whether they are good or bad, whether they make sense or not.
The word was used in the context of the invasion of Czechoslovakia which was commanded by people who were anything but discerning.
It is really and truly worthwhile reading Marc Santora’s article in yesterday’s New York Times about the invasion. And it’s not just his description of events that will capture you, it’s also the picture reproduced in this article that will bring events back to life for you. He writes:
Many of the most famous images were taken by Josef Koudelka, who was on the streets with his Exakta camera loaded with film that he had cut from the end of exposed movie reels.
Mr. Koudelka’s pictures were smuggled out of Prague and published anonymously, credited only to “Prague Photographer.”
In their intimacy and vivid detail, putting viewers on the street with shocked and horrified citizens, they showed the propaganda flowing from Moscow — that troops were sent to restore order and had been welcomed by the people — as utter lies.
If this happened today, people would be live-streaming the events from their smartphones. Or: the government would just shut down the internet and nothing would leak out – because, today, nobody would have a clue about how to cut film from the end of exposed movie reels…
I remember students running through the streets of the cities in Germany shouting “Dubček Svoboda” and “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh” as the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to stop Dubček’s efforts to create “socialism with a human face” and as the USA were bombing Vietnam killing tens of thousands of innocent people.
In 1968, there was a belief and an energy around that made many people think they could really change the world and make it a better place for all. Even, or maybe because, there were thousands of bombs dropped on innocent people and soviet tanks rolled through the streets of Prague.
I want to be more discerning than I have been. I want to make more of an effort to look behind the smoke screens. I want to continue the work of the people who wanted to make the world a better place.
Pádraig’s swim was sensational today. Really, to see what water can do to someone bound to a wheelchair is unbelievable. To see how he enjoys being liberated from much of his body weight and just float in the water. To see his super human efforts to walk, to shift his weight from one leg to the other. Today, and that was a first, he was holding on to the metal bar on the side of the pool and relaxed and then straightened first his left and then his right leg, several times in a row, all the time holding his head up high almost by himself and sustaining his body weight by himself.
I didn’t want to leave.