“So here is our little family-tribe going along searching for nourishment, when it suddenly comes across another family-tribe. What a significant movement in the history of the world, what a momentous discovery! The discovery that there are other people in the world! Until then, the members of these primal groups could live in the conviction, as they moved around in the company of 30 to 50 of their kinfolk, that they knew all the people in the world. Then it turned out that they didn’t — that other similar beings, other people, also inhabited the world! But how to behave in the face of such a revelation? What to do? What decision to make?”
So many times, I’ve heard people recently returned from the Developing World crying crocodile tears about how “guilty” they feel for living in the West. Guilty for what, exactly? For the fact that we live in such amazing countries and those outside the West do not? How obscenely, nationalistically, ethnocentrically self-congratulatory.
There is a word in Russian for which there is no translation. The word is toska, and the complexity of its meaning is enough to set a linguist’s heart aflutter. Indeed, every linguist worth their salt knows this word, as it is legendary in the world of languages in its stubborn disobedience to translate. It is in fact so complex and nuanced in its meaning, that it would take an English-speaking Russian literary genius to properly explain it. Fortunately we have such a luxury.
Of melancholy is a fearful gift;
What is it but the telescope of truth?
Which strips the distance of its fantasies,
And brings life near in utter nakedness,
Making the cold reality too real!
Lord Byron, The Dream
The world remains a rich tapestry; it remains a rich topography of the spirit. These myriad voices of humanity are not failed attempts at being you; failed attempts at being ‘modern.’ They are unique facets of the human imagination. They are unique answers to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive? And when asked that question, they respond with 6000 different voices, and collectively those voices become our human repertoire for dealing with the challenges that will confront us in the ensuing millennia.
– Dr. Wade Davis, anthropologist/ethnobotanist