Daniel Everett was a missionary who was ready to devote his life to the Pirahãs, a small tribe of the Amazonian Indians in central Brazil. He moved all the way (including his wife and two young kids) to the Amazon jungle to learn their unique language and culture, aim to translate the Bible and convert them eventually. But as he joked - “I am a happy failure” - after decades of hard work, he was only able to “convert” one person - himself - from a Christian to atheist.
I read the most of the book this April in Karuizawa when I was carrying on my Writing Spree activity. Really enjoyed it, it was like I was in the Amazon jungle and experienced an extrordinary life myself.
The Pirahã people usually only posses one gym short pants, not even a permanent houses of their own, yet they’re the happiest people in the world according to an MIT study. Take a simple look and see how often they laugh and smile a day, it easily beat any other societies or countries in the world.
“You’ve gotta get ‘em lost before you can get ‘em saved,” says Dr. Curtis Mitchell, the author’s evangelism professor at Biola University. But the Pirahã people are not lost at all! This all made his mission impossible to accomplish - “how would you convince a happy, satisfied people that they are lost and need Jesus as their personal savior?”
He once asked the Pirahãs if they knew why he was there in his early days.
“You are here because this is a beautiful place. The water is pretty. There are good things to eat here. The Pirahãs are nice people.”
In the book it mentioned that there were other tribes in the same area were much fond of the Western goods and culture that they adapted to it and eventually lost their own languages. This is not the case for Pirahã.
There is a hidden beauty in their seemingly simple yet sophisticated lifestyle, like a diamond in the mud.
What drew my attention first was how the author performed his linguistic field research and was able to uncover the uniqueness of the Pirahã language and culture.
Here are some of the characteristics in the Pirahã language:
No counting system.
No color terms.
Don’t generalize or abstract.
No word for “worry.”
No left or right.
No police, courts, chiefs, or other kinds of authority figures. They are mostly by tradition egalitarian, free of the influence of any leaders. “Don’t tell us what to do, how to live,” is the norm.
No concept of a supreme spirit or god.
The word “son” literally means “to come” or “the one that came.”
And “friend” means “to be touching” - someone you touch affectionately, and “enemy” means “to cause to come together.”
They prefer hardship. They perceive overweight as “you take more than you need.” I feel ashamed as I touch my round belly now…
They do not talk about unexperienced events, such as long past or far future events, or fictional topics. So there are no oral history or myth about where they are from or who “created” them.
Pirahãs don’t store food, they don’t plan more than one day at a time, they don’t talk about the distant future or the distant past - they seem to focus on now, on their immediate experience.
There is no word for “great-grandparents” as they can’t live long enough to “witness” their grandparents. And since they don’t talk about long past events or figures, there is no word in the language to refer to that ancestor.
Check out this conversation:
The Pirahã men then asked, “Hey Dan, what does Jesus look like? Is he dark like us or light like you?”
I said, “Well, I have never actually seen him. He lived a long time ago. But I do have his words.”
“Well, Dan, how do you have his words if you have never heard him or seen him?”
The value seemed to be to limit most talk to what you had seen or heard from an eyewitness. To elaborate that, it means the Pirahãs believe only what they see. Sometimes they also believe in things that someone else has told them, so long as that person has personally witnessed what he or she is reporting.
The grammar is also accustomed to that culture. For example, when they say “John went finishing [suffix],” there could be 16 suffixes to the verb and 3 suffixes are the most important ones to indicate the source of the evidence.
a) John went finishing, and I saw it.
b) John went finishing, and I heard about it.
b) John went finishing, and I deduced from the local evidence.
This may sound absurd at first, but let’s think about it, this probably is why they don’t need a leader because everyone is responsible for himself/herself, including little children - “little” as in our views.
There is no baby talk. They believe all members of the society are equal and thus “children” should not be treated any differently from adults. Everyone has responsibility for the community and everyone is cared for by the community. That means a 4-year old would work their shares to contribute, and could also share alcohol with adults.
Until reading the book, I had no concrete idea of what would be the exact consequence of losing a minority language that is only spoken by a few hundreds of people in the entire world. Nothing sums it up by this paragraph, I’ll just quote them:
A language is a repository of specialized cultural experiences. When a language is lost, we lose the knowledge of that language’s words and grammar. Such knowledge can never be recovered if the language has not been studied or recorded. Not all of this knowledge is of immediate practical benefit, of course, but all of it is vital in teaching us different ways of thinking about life, of approaching our day-to-day existence on planet Earth.
Every language and culture pair shows us something unique about the way that one subset of our species has evolved to deal with the world around it. Each people solves linguistic, psychological, social, and cultural problems in different ways. When a language dies without documentation, we lose a piece of the puzzle of the origin of human language. But perhaps more important, humanity loses an example of how to live, of how to survive in the world around us.
Page 276 - 277
The way that Pirahãs are living, some of their views and cultures may seem very counter-intuitive, however, they provide us a version of how we, our species, could live differently. A running example. It becomes even more precious when a good amount of our world emphasize more and more on a narrowed view of chasing next big wave, outrunning your opponents, and ever-expanding but never satisfying.
Whose version is more primitive or sophisticated? Find out more in the book.
There is also a short video from the author, Daniel Everett, on this topic. If you’ve made it this far, go check it out :)
Well actually to put it correctly, it takes a lot of time to change, but when it’s happening, it happens in a second. But we’re all suck at noticing those subtle signs, slowly fill up the tank.
Life is full of those unexpected changes. Not sure if I want to mention things that come to my mind right now, but when I look back I do have experienced a lot in recent years. Anyone, anything you firmly believed in might change in the next second, expected or unexpected, predictable or unpredictable.
So how to and what to prepare? You can’t prepare for all, so you’d better to have some wise advice, or further more, principles to follow.
You can’t do everything you want, but you can do anything you want.
When you look back, how many plan B turns out works way better than the initial plan A? If all my plan As worked I wouldn’t come to Japan, I wouldn’t have the desire to learn English, and I wouldn’t writing this piece of post for sure. Those examples will just get more and more when you grow older.
React with your best judgement at that moment. And how to make better decision in those situations? I think it’s through daily practices. How you feed your brain with great contents, how you educate yourself and tweak little parts towards mentally tough everyday, does have a huge impact when that day, that moment comes. Would you just let your emotion and impulse take control of your body and do whatever they want at that moment, or you could still be yourself, pause, and respond properly?
10% of life is made up of what happens to you, the other 90% is decided by how you react.
I believe there’re lighthouse principles that never change. They’re universal, and timeless.
One of the many famous quotes from Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A set of principle based values will show you the direction, provide you clear sense of vision, purpose for the future, that you live by.
Surprisingly I found a draft principles I wrote in 2014, what a timely reminder. Don’t think at the time of writing I followed any formats or guides, some of them are probably not that universal and some are event just questions, but after reading it I felt quite, content.
Progress. Not Perfection.
(Just some random midnight thoughts)
I don’t usually lose my temper, but if I get angry, it’s true - I’m scary. It’s like a room full of gas, any tiny spark will fire the whole universe. No one likes to get angry, we can’t control the trigger, but we surely could choose how to respond.
Whenever I get angry, I mean really angry, what I tend to do is getting drunk, throwing whatever stuff reachable against the wall(normally my phone), wasting money on things that never make sense when I’m sober. Oh there is a bottle can on the road? Perfect I would kick it badly and let it bounce and bounce. I do have the violent part inside me.
However, over the years I’ve learned it in a hard way that if I can’t calm myself down, not only the issue can’t be solved, but also it’s gonna hurt the person involved and further make a huge negative impact to the relationship almost unfixable. Thus I’ve written down 4 ways to accomplish the inner peace and use it as a personal reference.
“There was never an angry man that thought his anger unjust.”
You must have every single reason to be angry, maybe that’s something related to your deep down memory, maybe that’s what you called belief, principle, the way you see the world and how you’ve disciplined yourself, but the person just break it cruelly again and again.
Well, take a deep breath first. Even though this sounds the stupidest question but I insist on asking and trying your best to answer it.
Are you overreacting? Is what you see and hear really the truth? Is the person who get you angry aware of your reason being and expectation? If you know the person well, do you think it’s his/her intention? What if there’s some misunderstanding, what if you missed one important piece of the story?
I find these questions very effective to shift my focus from being a “victim” to a “outsider”. And for my experience, to be honest most of the times it was not that big as I thought, main reasons were either lack of information or lack of communication.
Go for a long walk with your favorite music.
You wouldn’t believe how amazing moving your body will lift your mood. If I close myself in a tiny room that may feel like sitting inside a time bomb. Limited space and static view will make you do nothing but stuck in your little angry world.
Also fast paced music is recommended. Just follow the rhythm and move your body, try not to think about the thing.
Normally after a 60 minutes walk I would start to think, “yeah maybe I’m being a little bit childish here”.
Any outdoor activity that can make you find some sort of solitude, make your brain go into autopilot mode is ok.
“You can be right, but wrong at the top of your voice”, one great lesson I learned from book Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs
There’re times when you can be 100% right, but if you deliver it poorly it could cause so much trouble when you try to confront/communication later. And there’s no way to get back what you said, you could equally hurt the person if you can’t control your words.
Think about being the other side, have you forgotten what a person says to you when they are angry? You probably not, even though you can’t recall the exact words, you must still remember the hurt feelings. Don’t make the same mistake.
For me, I thought I was picking up the softest words at that time but, it turned out, I regretted afterwards every single time. I wish I would never said that kind of thing. So I just admit I’m totally not capable to response without anger when the emotion is that high.
Don’t speak with hatred, it backfires and really hurts.
There is no single moment more important to test who you really are than when you’re angry. How you react at this emotional high is gonna make a significant mark on your characters.
If you seek alcohol, close yourself and run away from this incident, next time you have a high chance to repeat the same thing, and the next time, and the next time… Through the repetitions the evil routines will grow and be “promoted” as your go-to solution whenever you get angry.
Everybody functions ok when he/she is happy, but not everyone handle the opposite well. This is the key moment to show your true color, to distinguish yourself from the others. On the plus side, if you handled it well the reward is invaluable. This is also a great chance to build and strengthen the trust between you and the person, and the people around.
We all have darkness inside, don’t let yourself be swallowed by it. Instead, conquer it, tame it.
I use this as the ultimate weapon to remind myself.
Even though I’ve listed all the methods it’s still hard, it’s a hard work and pain process, and I assume this is never gonna be easier. Why? We get angry because we care. There’re things and people we care about, and when it doesn’t reach our expectation, the way we wish it to be, the stronger the presumption is wired in our mind, the more angry we become.
Be aware of the trigger, learn to deal with it and don’t make the move you know you’ll regret later.
When was the last time you get angry and how you responded to it? How do you calm yourself down?
Sharing some takeaways of my favorite podcast, SEASON 3, EPISODE 9: MAKING PEACE WITH AN UNEXPECTED LIFE, hope this would help me and others to feel a bit better in the unexpected, unknown life.
Sometimes you have to make room for what’s unexpected because there’s a miracle there. - MICHELE CUSHATT
My favorit part starts from 9:52.
There have been quite a few ups and downs and twists and turns. Well, gratitude in many ways is my lifeline, because when you’re in a position where you’ve lost so much, where every time you turn around you’re losing something else, it can be very easy to focus on all that’s gone. I mean, it’s like you just look around and see carnage everywhere you look. You see all of these different things you’ve lost, things you will never get back, and there’s so much grief that’s a part of that.
The only way to push through grief really is to eventually come to some place where you see what you still have left. So I can either focus on all that I’ve lost or start to identify and recognize what I still have.
That’s not easily done. So I don’t want it to sound trite. I mean, that’s work. That’s serious work, but part of my surgery meant I lost some function of speech. I lost some function of eating ability. I lost my ignorance, being able to naively live, thinking that cancer wouldn’t happen to me, that it only happens to other people. I lost all of those things, which were huge things to grieve. They were massive.
Or I could focus on the fact that, gosh, I have two legs that can go outside and go for a walk, and I have a family. How many people don’t have a family to support them through things like this? I live in the United States, where I have access to great healthcare. How many people don’t have that? I could just start making a list of all of the ways I was incredibly blessed. What it did was just kind of weigh the scales differently, so rather than it being such a huge weight of how much I’d lost, now all of a sudden the scales weighed pretty heavily with what I still had.
One thing I want to say on that topic is that my thought was that I was weak. The fact that I had to do this meant that I wasn’t strong enough. The question I kept asking myself was, “What’s wrong with you, Michele, that you can’t do this? What’s wrong with you?”
That wasn’t the right question. I eventually learned how to be a little kinder to myself. “Well, of course you’re exhausted. Look what has happened.”, “Look what you’ve been through.”, “Look what has gone on.” To offer that grace to yourself a little bit more and understand that true strength is being willing to say, “Okay, this is bigger than me. I need some help,” is important.
If we look at just one particular chapter, one particular scene, we can get really overcome with the weight of what’s happening in that moment, but if we can step back and see the overall transition and flow of the story that’s taking shape in our lives, all of a sudden it becomes something that’s quite a beautiful piece of art. But you just can’t look at it one slice at a time. You have to see the overall whole, and when you do, you’ll realize there is an artist who’s weaving all things together for some kind of glorious end, and you get to experience it, but you have to step back and take that kind of vantage point.