Some friends of mine who enjoy square dancing here in Oakhurst regularly go in their RV to Arizona each winter. To Havasu City, where London Bridge was rebuilt, or to other places along or near the Colorado River; they say that typically they square dance three times a week while there. I asked them: are you commuters or nomads?
They first replied: well, neither. But then they thought a little about what a commuter is. The life of daily commuters, who commute to work each workday, has been described as being shaped like a dumbbell: a work life, a home life, and a bar in between which is their commute route. For seasonal commuters, who have a winter life in one area, a rest-of-the-year life in another, it is similarly. My friends conceded that they were seasonal commuters. As for nomads – why would we be considered that?
I put in the thing about nomads only to explore an idea that arose in me when I read about the Natives of the Sierra Nevada. Long before Europeans began to influence them in any way, they too had been seasonal commuters: their winter villages were located in the western foothills, near the valley floor, where they could trade with valley and coastal tribes. In the spring and summer, they moved to villages in the high country, following (or leading) the herds of elk that moved similarly. Then, “with the darkening skies of November” (as historian Paul C. Johnson put it), they returned to the lower elevations for the winter. That only made sense, they moved as their major source of food, hides and bone tools moved, and in the process escaped the summer heat and dryness of the lower foothills, and the ten-foot (and more) high snows of the winter in the high country. That was then; but by the time anthropologists studied them in the 1840s onward, their numbers were greatly reduced, their livelihood mostly destroyed and the spiritual essence of their culture greatly compromised; they were living like refugees, not seasonal commuters; and when the anthropologists went about describing their earlier life, they used descriptions similar to those of the Plains Indians: they called them nomads.
This is just one example of many that show how two different words, describing the same thing, can do so with greatly different connotations inviting greatly different value judgments; “freedom fighter” and “terrorist” is another such pair. The choice of words in situations like this is a favorite tactic of propagandists, of course. In any given pair, or set, of words to choose from, there is at least one which many, if not most, can identify with; and another with which they cannot. It is easy for most people in this society to see himself as a commuter, to empathize with the situation of the commuter; not so easy to see himself as a nomad. It is this key ingredient of EMPATHIZABILITY that lies at the heart of word selection – and of propaganda, and advertising as well.
The Jungian idea at work here is that all we know of another person, and for that matter another place or another thing, is our perception of it; and our relationships to those we know ARE those perceptions and thus are a part of ourselves. To empathize with the situation or the life of another is to relate that to one’s own experience, and so to feel that part of ourselves; as I would feel MY hand, or MY whatever. Where we do not empathize with another description of himself is where we cannot relate the words used to parts of ourselves; they are only definitions (at best).
It is like looking at a map. Objectively, a map is only a piece of paper (or a computer screen) with symbols and words laid out to scale (or not). It becomes alive, and value to us, as we hold a vision of what it is like to be at the places on it. Relating to it is in experiencing what it FEELS like to be there. Lacking that aliveness, that vision, that feeling, it is only a piece of paper with symbols and words. Similar can be said of a schedule, or an itinerary, or a business plan – or a grocery list.
Defining your life – or living it:
You can define your life like you would define words; it would be an intellectual action like learning the definitions of words in a dictionary; seeing as how that is what a dictionary does. Or you could LIVE life, where you become familiar with other people, other places, and activities to where you realize the Jungian view that they have become parts of yourself. Sometimes that option proves to be difficult; for their are parts of ourselves that would stand in the way of that acceptance; archetypal parts like the Defender, or the Discerner/Judge. When you think about the extent that propaganda – and advertising – is based on favoring words which we are likely to have empathy with; and disfavoring words that we do not, or that we hate; living life (over merely defining it) would seem to have some strong allies; and the poor Defender and Discerner might often feel they are fighting a losing battle.