My license plate reads “WRDSLGR.” Although there are perhaps a handful of different interpretations, the intended translation is “word-slinger.” It is among the characteristics that define me. I am a writer. I am also a human being; what I write about is, very broadly, human experience. I am not sure which is more compelling - the experience or the words I sling to tell it. Regardless, the sum of human experience is based not upon those experiences per se, but rather the telling of them. The vast majority of what I know is not a direct experience but the re-telling of others'. Many others have said it, as have I, our use of symbols - words and otherwise – separate humans from all other known life forms. It is a huge separation.
More than just a communicator (primarily through the written word, my preferred medium), I am also a communication scholar. I study communication and I do it through communication. It is the only way to study anything. We build upon what was learned before us as we cannot directly experience the vastness of human knowledge. But in a way, the study of communication is direct experience because I am studying the use of symbols to transmit information from one to another – and like any other discipline, it is learned through symbolic interaction. I am, in fact, directly experiencing the very symbols (words mostly, but not always) that I am studying. When I read Aristotle, I am reading and interpreting what he wrote, I need not have been present while he was actually writing it. If I was studying ancient Greek history, or philosophy, or archeology, or any other discipline besides communication, the experience has to be indirect. But I study the words and they are complete; they are still here – they can be experienced and re-experienced directly as the symbols that they are.
Recently I read the writing of a friend regarding her experience with matters of uncertainty. She wrote of pain and safety and comfort and although I certainly could not literally see the world from her eyes, her words conveyed in stark terms the feelings she was experiencing. Words, well-slung words, can do that. They touch us in a way that conjures up our own experiences, making the words real. Human symbolic communication can move us to greatness or treachery, provoke sympathy and anger, move mountains and create molehills. Communication is the umbrella under which all other knowledge exists, for without it the very nature of reality can only exist in a single and instant moment – gone forever as the next second ticks by. It is power, one that is created and understood by the only symbol-using animal. So integral to our species that communication is arguably the most important field of study. It is what makes us who we are.