"JUST A PIECE OF PAPER"
by Jessica Kuzmier
Literacy is a trait which has helped mankind stand out from other members of the animal kingdom. The written word has acted as a record for what has gone on before, in a time where people can learn of others who are no longer on the earth. Many people believe also that literacy is the key to bringing people out of poverty in developing nations. If people are able to read, they can get out of the spiral of violence and be able to live a better life with a livelihood that entails more than just scraping by.
This is even more true in a world that is dictated by paperwork and literacy to begin with. Many times, unwed cohabiting couples decide against marriage, because, after all, it is "just a piece of paper". These people feel that they shouldn't have to rely on "just a piece of paper" in order to prove their love for one another. True enough in its own regard, except the people who say these kinds of things are living in a society that is determined on myriads of these "just pieces of papers". Which is why many homosexual couples are agitating for familial and legal rights to recognize their relationships. After years of living without the all-important "just a piece of paper", these people find themselves living without the rights that the piece of paper conveys. Business licenses, mortgages, liens, deeds, and academic degrees are all piece of papers that hold weight in legal and fiduciary means. A literate world is dependent on "just a piece of paper".
The modern industrial world is not the only epoch that has been dependent on pieces of paper. Although it took Gutenberg's printing press in the fifteenth century to eventually open up the literate world to the general public, scholars have been the mainstay of many a society once it was determined that one could make marks on some substance and have it mean something. The Code of Hammurabi was the first written codified law. The Ten Commandments were inscribed in stone. Biblical law, enshrined in the Pentateuch, laid the legal groundwork for the Promised Land that Moses saw but never set foot in.
In the Preacher's time, he already saw many books, too numerous to count, and they seemed endless in their procession of publication (Eccl. 12:12), to the point that contemplating their contents would exhaust the student. Clearly, there had come a time, even here in the pre-industrial world, that it seemed like there were people who read too much. In the Preacher's observation, people were seeking wisdom through proverbs, so the Preacher felt a moral obligation to make sure he chose words of wisdom, and choose them carefully (Eccl. 12:10). But it seems that he believed that too much study was just as likely to harm a person as one who did himself in from too much folly (Eccl. 12:12).
What does this mean, to "study too much"? In a society that uses the written code to dictate scripture and law, it would seem that the more time spent in the books, the better. If there was already too many books back in the day of Solomon, how much worse it would be today, with not only books upon books, but blogs, zines and newsletters? Whole forests have been decimated in the name of perpetuating knowledge. And in a world where it is apparent that each of our footprints seems to affect those on the other side of the planet, it seems like keeping up with the issues of the day is vital, if not seemingly endless. It would seem that more study is needed, not less. What is too much studying, anyway?
In the spirit of the Book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher tells us that there is a time and season for everything. The Byrds' paraphrase of the first part of Ecclesiastes 3 could basically be summarized as this: there is a time and a season for everything. There is too much of a good thing, as can be witnessed when one eats too much or one craves too much sex with too many people. Study is in the same realm as these other good things: everything is good in moderation. The literate world is the sphere of logic, of the left brain hemisphere. Always good to exercise it and keep it active, but there is the other half: the intuitive, creative, spiritual side that entails the right half of the typical human brain.
It is also possible, insofar as worship of a higher power is concerned, that if one relies on the study of words as an interpretation of God that an individual may lose out on experiencing the full nature of the higher power. Ironically, this person of learning actually may miss out on a learning experience if he tries to study the world exclusively through the written word. Discovering the nature of a higher power, which by definition would seem to constitute many different aspects, would seem to be something that would be more expansive than memorizing scripture. Music, art, silence, spending time in nature, and community work may be other ways that one could learn about God in ways other than searching Scripture.
Even in the secular world, the practice of balance is just as essential as in the world of religious edicts. There are many ways of learning, and many ways of experiencing the world. Having some sense of literacy is important in a world that relies on "just a piece of paper" to prove credentials from far corners of the earth, as word of mouth is not as effective in a world or even national economy. But learning is more than books, and there is more to life than study. Sometimes one just needs to be and know that he is human, a spirit among other spirits, and more than the knowledge that is contained through reason.
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