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These Great Gifts We Take for Granted

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“We use them each and every day without giving them so much as a second thought,” says thought-leader, author and philosopher Ken Wilber.


He’s referring to some Gifts that come with our lives in the Western, or developed world, although some range beyond that and apply even in primitive societies.


He focuses on four we never think about, calling them “Mental Software” that is installed, without our necessarily understanding that it’s happening, as Givens in our society. So he’s not talking about Awareness; the ability to Think; my favourite – the ability to compare (similars) and contrast (dissimilars); or the necessities most of us do take for granted: food, potable water, shelter. We’ve had a stark illustration of having that rug pulled out from under us in the situation in Puerto Rico, where a large portion of the population has been living without those. Could you go a week without these survival supports that are normally provided for us in modern society? I wouldn’t know where to start.


Wilber’s focus is more conceptual while being no less valuable.


“If I'd learned nothing else in my twenty-seven years on this planet, I'd learned that when someone gives you something totally unexpected and undeserved, you don't ask questions.” ---Jill D. Block


Here are four Gifts our developed civilization gives us:


The Alphabet.

Arabic has 28 letters, Russian 33, in Chinese there are 50,000 characters. We use only 26 (not including tildes, cedillas, or umlauts) and, armed with these we have a way to write (and so record) human thought in symbols and meaning – Images and Sensations. I imagine it would take a lifetime to master the Chinese language…We as children learn in a few months this great, simplified master tool which will last a lifetime.


Numbers

Today we use a system of 10 root numbers. That’s not as easy as you might think. The metric system is strictly multiples of 10. Yet the old American system survives – pounds and ounces, cups, quarts, gallons, feet, yards…The Roman numerics hit a stopping place when it came to 10. They didn’t have a zero. Eventually they used a dot, which has transformed but still divides dollars and cents (based on 10s). Numbers define calculation, from knowing how many apples you have to making change to Astrophysics and Quantum Mechanics. Numbers are elegant and precise, unsung heroes underpinning our lives.


“Science is a beautiful gift to humanity; we should not distort it.” ---A. P. J. Abdul Kalam


Clocks and Calendars.

Hours, minutes, months, seasons, years – these gifts are the means by which we modulate our lives. They are a grid for understanding appreciation and learning. They are how we structure our lives. Time developed for mankind. Any hominid would know day from night, second stage would probably be day parts, seasons, then years – and somewhere along the way we got into reducing the span of time into smaller, more useful measures: enter clocks. They were known in ancient Egypt, sand clocks in their case, similar to an hourglass. In England time was subdivided by times of day to hours, kept track of and announced through churches’ bell towers. Personal time, watches or home clocks for example, came much later, really starting in the 18th Century. Neither Shakespeare or Queen Elizabeth had a wristwatch. We of course have internal clocks and Circadian Rhythms – yet blind people can suffer from “Non-24”, when they can’t tell if it’s day or night.


Cardinal Directions.

North. South. East. West. Even with GPS in the car, knowing Directions is clearly fundamental to personal or larger navigation. The infinity of directions from where you are is reduced to four major ones, which we can subdivide through astrolabe, compass, computer or mental process. I’ve always walked a lot, and I have a talent for making nonsense out of any directions, so I gravitate to the North-South axis: when I lived in Toronto, the water (Lake Ontario) was South; now I live in Vancouver, the water is South – and North – and West. Fortunately for me the mountains can always be seen, and they’re North.


      “Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn't misuse it.” ---Pope John Paul II


I appreciate Ken Wilber for drawing my attention to these Gifts.


I take them for granted just like everybody else.


There’s nothing to “Do” about them. They’re certainly not our only under-the-radar inheritance.


So often I’ve heard people say, “Life didn’t come with an owner’s manual…” For us in the developed world, life came with some tools to read one.


We can just appreciate them. For us in the developed world, they are Baked In, little bits of fundamental orientation we pick up along the way, through Nature or Nurture, and we don’t ever stop to notice them.


They are a Cause for Gratitude.


      “Love the giver more than the gift.” ---Brigham Young

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