Toki Pona – Fluency In Silence And The Assassination Of Donald Trump
Apart from a few scintillating highlights, 2016 has been the worst fucking year of my entire life. I don’t feel too badly about it though, because broadly speaking 2016 has been a bad year for pretty much everybody.
So many dead celebrities. So many fallen heroes that looking back on this year is like viewing the killing fields at the end of the first day of The Battle of the Somme.
This year, just over half of my fellow Britons voted to leave the EU despite a large proportion of them not even knowing what the EU actually is. We all know what it is now. Doomed, that’s what it is, if Brexit goes ahead as planned. And I’m using the word “planned” in its loosest possible sense here.
We also got yet another unelected Prime Minister in the form of Tory Thatcher-a-like Theresa May. At least when Gordon Brown was in the same situation, he was self-aware enough to act like he really shouldn’t be there. Theresa May is showing no signs whatsoever of such self-awareness.
This is all messing with my sense of reality to be honest. At the risk of coming over all existential, I’m beginning to wonder whether or not I’m actually the only thing that exists and that 2016 is a result of my fevered imagination just making things up as it goes along and getting a bit carried away with itself.
Trying to dismiss this thought is not being helped by the Americans voting Donald Trump in as their President Elect. This is truly awful, but at least the Americans are having the decency to start acting like they know what they’ve done. And they do know what they’ve done. Which is why they have made him Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, thus lumping him in with previous winners like Stalin and Hitler.
Yeah, yeah I know, Godwin’s Law. Well, screw Godwin’s Law. When a thing needs to be said, it needs to be said. End of story.
We’re all worried about the prospect of Donald Trump in The White House. But let’s take heart in the fact that he won’t be inaugurated until January the 20th. There’s plenty of time before then for somebody to assassinate him. If there’s two things America has in spades, its guns and nutcases. Surely there’s enough overlap in that Venn diagram for somebody to step up to the plate, do their duty and make their country proud? Well, you’d think, but unfortunately nutcases with guns are Trump’s main demographic, so that’s that plan knackered.
Without doubt, 2016 has sucked. I would say “roll on 2017”, but there’s no guarantee that next year is going to be any better. In fact, given the collective decisions made by the masses of various countries this year, it’s almost a certainty that 2017 will suck in ways that, even now, we couldn’t possibly imagine.
It is only almost a certainty though. Nobody really knows what will happen next year. There is only one certainty that January the First will bring, apart from massive hangovers. That certainty is this: people will make New Year resolutions.
I personally have lots of stuff I need to do next year. These things are not resolutions though, just things I have to do. And I’ve already started doing them anyway. I figure that if I do them now, at what is the most hectic time at the year for me, then carrying on doing them next year will be a piece of piss. So, come January the First, I can just sit back and enjoy my hangover.
Other people will be making resolutions though. Give up this, start doing that, achieve the other etc etc. As I’ve already said, there’s stuff I’m cracking on with, but I am toying with one idea for the New Year. Learning a new language. And the language I’m considering is called Toki Pona. This means “Good Language”. In Toki Pona.
If you’ve never heard of it, Toki Pona is relatively new, constructed language. It has a small alphabet, it only has about 120 words and you can become fluent in it in about 30 hours of study. You may think I have chosen this language because I’m lazy, but that’s not it. Well yes, I can be lazy – we all can- but that’s not the reason. The reason is that Toki Pona is a language different from any other.
For a start, unlike most languages, its primary purpose is not to facilitate ease of communication. Quite the opposite in many ways. It’s an introspective language. The language of introverts. Toki Pona is for thinkers. It is, as its creator put it, “a philosophical attempt to understand the meaning of The Universe in 120 words”.
Because it has so few building blocks, you have to put together concepts to describe even the simplest of things. It’s a bit like that computer game “Alchemy”, where you start with four elements – Earth, Air, Fire and Water- and build more complex things with them. You know, Fire + Water = Steam. Steam + Air = Cloud, and so on.
This means that, when you converse with somebody in Toki Pona, you have to think very carefully about what you are saying. And, more importantly, you have to listen to what the other person is saying even more carefully, because what they mean by what they are saying is almost certainly not how you would express it. It is a language of empathy and understanding. And it’s not a language you would want to speak to just anybody in, because a conversation in Toki Pona will reveal how you really think and what makes you tick.
English has hundreds of thousands of words, but you can have limitless of hours of conversation with somebody in English and still not know a damn thing about them. Sarcasm and irony and all the linguistic tools we use to belittle people and hide who we really are, these do not exist in Toki Pona. It’s just not made that way. It’s raw and real and honest.
It’s also very difficult to count things in Toki Pona. It only has three numbers: one, two and five. This is good, because counting things can get you into a lot of trouble. You know, money and possessions and suchlike. To say you have five of something in Toki Pona, you say the word for five. To say you have ten of something, you say the word for five twice. To say you have eleven of something, you say the word for five twice and then the word for one. In practical terms, this means it’s extremely tiresome to count higher than ten. But if you have ten of a particular thing, you almost certainly don’t need any more. You may think you want more, but you don’t need more.
Let’s say you own your house and that house is worth £350,000. There is no way of telling anybody this in Toki Pona. Well, there is, but you’d have to say the word for “five” seventy thousand times. Even the most enthusiastic property bore wouldn’t bother doing that. Not that they would be talking in Toki Pona in the first place.
This language, by its very nature, eschews material things. People, no matter how much their houses are worth, often de-clutter those houses. It can be very therapeutic. It’s a much rarer person that thinks to de-clutter their mind. This is one of the main aims of Toki Pona. It’s about clear, simple thought. Clear, simple thought is not something which comes naturally to me. It’s not something which comes naturally to most of us, to one extent or another.
The best thing about Toki Pona is how it fails. When it comes to really complex thought, it fails deliberately. It fails spectacularly and beautifully.
Let’s say you and a loved one have decided to only talk in Toki Pona for the day and then gone for a walk in the countryside. The glory of nature is all around you. You see something particularly awe inspiring, like a gorgeous sunset. Or it’s started raining and you want to wax lyrical about how fresh and renewed that makes you feel. You can’t. The tools just aren’t there. So you have no option but to enjoy the wonders before you, together and in glorious silence. You just have to relax and enjoy the view.
Maybe I’ll learn Toki Pona next year and maybe I won’t. I am going to try to relax and enjoy the view a bit more though. Perhaps if more of us had done that this year, 2016 might have turned out a bit better for everybody. Though not for the dead celebrities, of course.
Copyright Michael Grimes 2016