By Dr. Christopher Myers
Faculty Member, Humanities Program at American Public University
Communication is very important in life, and misunderstanding is so easy that it is up to us to frame our communication in a manner to avoid misunderstanding.
I went to college in Santa Cruz, California. One day I was talking to some of the brand-new freshman on campus, and one of the new students was telling me about her academic plans. Apparently, she did not know what she wanted to major in so she was going to focus on her general education. I said, “Oh, so you’re going to study the liberal arts?” She said, “Oh no, I’m a very conservative person!” I often wondered what she thought the “the liberal arts” were! While I’m sure she went onto a successful college career, this story illustrates the importance of communication and the proper use of context.
The invention of writing enabled the explosion of civilization in the history of humankind. The French philosopher Paul Ricoeur writes, “We need only remind ourselves of some of these tremendous achievements. To the possibility of transferring orders over long distances without serious distortions may be connected to the birth of political rule exercised by a distant state . . . To the fixation of rules for reckoning may be referred the birth of market relationships, therefore the birth of economics. To the constitution of archives, history. To the fixation of law as a standard of decisions, independent from the opinion of the concrete judge, the birth of the justice and juridical codes, etc.” (Interpretation Theory, Texas Christian University Press, p. 28).
I teach philosophy and religious studies, so I have an example of how writing can change the course of history. In the year 1054 the Western Church and the Eastern Church split (sometimes known as the Great Schism) over the words “and the Son.” This is known as the “filioque clause.” Basically, the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople were arguing over the exact written formulation of the Nicene Creed. The Western Church wanted their formulation to read “the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son” while the Eastern Church did not want to include the last clause because of theological reasons. The last straw seems to have been a gift of a silver platter from the Bishop of Rome to the Patriarch of Constantinople that included the inscribed text of the Nicene Creed with the phrase “and the Son.” The Bishop and the Patriarch excommunicated each other the split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches remains today.
The treaty that ended the war between the U.S. and Japan at the end of World War II included the stipulation that the Emperor of Japan would make a public announcement and put it in writing that he was actually not divine (a Shinto Kami deity). His communication — in words and in writing – led to the end of hostilities and created the foundation for the long and enduring alliance between our country and the people of Japan.
One of the major advantages of an education in the humanities is the ability to refine your writing skills. The opportunity for this in the online academic classroom is even greater than in the traditional, on-campus classroom. In the online environment, you will have the opportunity every week to put it in writing — and I highly recommend it! Remember – words are important!
About the Author:
Christopher Myers earned his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 2009. His dissertation was on philosophical hermeneutics, which is the science and the art of interpreting written texts. He has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals and presented at a number of conferences. Before going to college, he was an entomologist with United States Air Force and is also an ordained minister with the United Methodist Church. He will be doing a presentation for The Asian Conference on Ethics, Religion & Philosophy at the end of March and will be publishing his paper in the conference journal. The title of his paper is: “Ricoeur’s dialectic of distanciation and appropriation in the asynchronous, online college classroom.”
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