Word-proof Ears

While reading Maria Popovich’s Figuring (p. 214), I was struck by a phrase in her description of Florence Nightingale’s work of noting, recording, and advocating for hygiene in hospitals. Her insight based on accumulated evidence of outcomes carefully recorded was falling on ears clogged with the commonsense of, “We’ve always done it this way!”

Finally, she presented her work graphically, as all good statisticians should be ready to do if they want to bypass “word-proof ears”. It turned out that eyes could hear what ears couldn’t. Washing hands is important. Avoiding contagion has value.

In today’s political partisanship that lives and dies by echo-chambers word-proofing each flag-waving side from the other, the banalest utterance will be wrapped in danger-music and disorienting-graphics. What once had no meaning becomes infested and invested with bone-deep dread. The simplest word gets caught in a web of magical proofs of each conjectural conspiracy. Finally, there is nothing left than Crusade. Guns worn to threaten, carry out their task of obliteration—in no time, clip after clip is emptied and empties body after body.

Still, ears are word-proofed, eyes blinded. What is left now is a Franciscan embrace of a leper. Beyond sight and sound is soul mourning for soul. We weep for and on behalf of those who refuse uncertainty and mash all else into their shape, not as their peer but their slave.

Given our Sodomite inhospitality to neighbors and strangers, even a soul-kiss cannot guarantee reciprocity.

What next, after sound and sight and soul come to fail?

Here we are. Nonetheless—may you dream strong, smile gentle, and so go well.

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