I am in the woods and I have gone crazy.

After reading books from The David Birkenhead series I was looking for some similar sci fi and decided on some Heinlein books. The only one on the shelve at the library was Variable Star.

The main character is very smart. He’s talking to one of the most powerful businessmen in the solar system — or rather, he’s being spoken at by this person. As the protagonist half-listens, his mind wanders about how he and this formidable leader are in such different stations in life, and look at things from such different perspectives, that if he speaks his mind to this man, he won’t understand, he’ll just think it’s crazy.

It reminds the main character of a story (from some googling this story may be true). A man named Russell wrote a song called I’m Lost in the Woods. Since the melody sounded African he wanted a Zulu background chorus for it. But when he talked to translators about how to translate the title of his song, they all told him it wasn’t possible to translate: Zulu don’t get lost in the woods, and so they don’t have that concept. There was no common ground for Russell to relate to the Zulu what his song was about. He had to settle for a translation of, “I am in the woods and I have gone crazy.”

First, that’s awesome for the Zulu. There’s a macho-coolness in being a people for whom getting lost in the woods is such a non-possibility that they don’t even have a way to say it.

Second, sometimes communication can be that way between different cultures, or people with vastly different backgrounds and/or perspectives. You can try to communicate something important, but all the other person can ascertain is that you must be crazy, because what you’re saying doesn’t make any sense. From his perspective, at least.

Last, I suppose if you’re on the receiving end, and are tempted to label the speaker as crazy, it might be better to be patient to listen to more, to be creative with your listening, and to delay negative judgments (like, “that guy’s nuts”) for as long as you can.

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  • http://twitter.com/RogerBourkeWhit Roger Bourke White

    Heinlen is one of the authors that really pulled me into scifi. I consider his writing and others like his “Golden Age” scifi. I try to emulate that in my own writing, instead of resorting to what scifi has become these days.