The State Seal


nunst081Over the years, my daughter and I have engaged in several entertaining conversations about school and homework. However, a conversation took place this week that will be told around the dinner table for years to come. It went something like this:

My daughter: Now, I need to color the state flag.

Me: Wow, the flag will be difficult to draw. It has the state seal on it.

My daughter (coming to my chair with a copy of the state flag): No Mom. That’s a badger, not a seal. Wisconsin doesn’t have any seals.

She was so earnest. She was so polite, but there was just this little edge of “I can’t believe my mom doesn’t know the difference between a seal and a badger” in her voice. Just a touch of patronage.

She was right of course, the animal depicted on the state flag is a badger, and Wisconsin doesn’t have any seals.

She was also wrong, because she was unaware of a larger truth.

Seal has two meanings, and the badger is depicted as part of the “Seal of the Great State of Wisconsin”. The state flag bears a representation of the official state seal.

English is such a confounding language.

I think there is a lesson here, and not just a vocabulary lesson. Or a civics lesson.

My daughter had started to judge me based on her incomplete knowledge of the world she lives in. “How could Mom be so out of touch?!?”

How many times do we assume someone is out of touch, or not terribly intelligent, or uneducated or uncultured based on our own incomplete knowledge of the world we live in—when sometimes we are the ones who are “out of touch”?

I’ve done it. More times than I care to admit, and I’m not proud of it.

Recently I traveled for work and spent time with colleagues from around the world—Europe, Asia, Australia. We ate meals together. We rode on a bus together. I spoke with someone who had spent her childhood in East Germany and now has a young child of her own. We talked about the current state of education—in Switzerland and in the United States. I learned much. I sat at breakfast and watched a newscast about troubles in the Ukraine and discussed it with two people living in Spain. Their perspective wasn’t terribly different from mine, but the crisis has immediacy for them that it lacks for me.

Travel is one thing that opens us up to the larger truths of the world we live in—getting out of our comfort zone and seeing the larger world gives us new perspectives and makes us a little less judgmental. Reading also helps us expand our world. Talking to one another face-to-face in earnest conversation does as well. It’s much easier to judge or dismiss a tweet or a Facebook post than it is to judge or dismiss a person who is sharing a meal or a cup of coffee with you.

We live in a world where we are increasingly getting our information in 140 character bits only from sources we choose to follow. This self-selection is creating an increasingly divisive and anti-social world, where we judge and dismiss one another easily based on our own limited experiences. We need to travel. We need to meet each other again—to take the other person’s hand, look into his eyes and have a conversation.
And perhaps, we will learn that Wisconsin does indeed have seals…of a sort.

©2015 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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