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Reflections: TWOOK — “A Reflective Educational Experiment (in times of illness)”: (click below)

TWOOK — “A Reflective Educational Experiment (in times of illness)”, 1-6.  (pdf file)

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You never step into the same river twice.”



Famous philosopher Heraclitus has left us this remarkable fragment which has captured our imagination for over 2500 years. Just imagine your bare feet touching those cold flowing refreshing waters which never remain the same. Feel its rhythm. See those huge boulders and giant rocks the river slowly transforms into sediment as it moves downstream. Upon returning to the very same spot, one realizes, the river is not as it was. Perhaps, we will be lucky enough to realize, we too are not as we were. But it seems we are rarely like flowing rivers. As a matter of fact we rarely even think of our rivers. Our troubled, hardly flowing and lifeless Bogotá river is for us the prime example of our unchanging blindness. Not feeling the river’s rhythms, we are surprised ––as we have been in the recent terrible and costly floodings—– when the river takes back the channels and beds we have, in many instances, unwisely usurped. Could it be that we are more like the boulders and rocks that stubbornly resist personal transformation with their illusory sense of security and obvious grandeur? It seems so.

There exist many famous renown rocks, and business is not the exception. Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States from 1987 to 2006, was considered to be the leading expert in the market dynamics of the day. He was named to this powerful position by highly respected and quite loved President Reagan whose economic views have been summarized in his famous words from his First Inaugural Address in 1981: “Government is not the solution, government is the problem.” Famous for his —-NOW seen to be—- extreme views of free market economics, and dead set against major forms of regulation of complex derivatives in market transactions, Greenspan even appeared in the cover of Time Magazine. The cover title said it all, Greenspan and his advisors were held to be “the committee to save the world.” Oedipus too was called on to save Thebes as the riddle-solver he was. But the river flows, and little was Greenspan prepared for its rhythms. Little wonder that once the world financial crisis became OUR river (of course, with exceptions such as that of Canada and the prudential practical wisdom of its banks), Greenspan became paralyzed by his own mind. And soon thereafter we had the opportunity to see a very different Greenspan; the powerful river´s waters had reduced the powerless boulder. Before a Congressional Committee, we witnessed a truly courageous public admission. Like a modern economic Oedipus, Greenspan was asked to respond to Representative Waxman’s “simple” question; “Were you wrong?” By answering, Greenspan allowed us to see for ourselves the fundamental basis of change: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.” Greenspan had understood: he had come to understand that he did not know, even though he once thought he did. Another famous philosopher once said something similar. And, in all honesty, how many of us can bear the simplicity of that question for ourselves?

However, we need ask; how could someone so intelligent, so wise and recognized by so many to be so; how could someone like that be simultaneously so resistant to changing his own views on things? Had he not read Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex during his MBA training? Wouldn’t that have made a BIG difference? Perhaps, one could put it this way: there seems to be a kind of inverse relation between changes for personal success and success at personal changes. Following Boyle´s famous law of gases there can develop a powerfully blinding inverse relation between these. Why so? Because, it seems, as successful recognition is gained, the very erotic and self-questioning drive that pushed one originally TO succeed, slowly but surely in many of us looses its rhythmic power. Boyle’s law explains the inverse relationship between the volume and pressure of a gas. Think of a pressure cooker. In our case we could say: the greater the volume of the ego, the less the pressure to change. Think of all the famous bubble bursts of the economy. Ironically, it appears, the more intelligent we are, the less intelligent we are for change. Mintzberg’s call not to pay bonuses seems refreshing. We wish to remain boulders, but the river thinks otherwise. And it will let us know.

But, then, how could one become more prepared for the rhythms of change? For starters, by looking outside oneself. If only Greenspan had looked outside himself and his paradigm. If only he had had courageous friends, and not simply yes-sayers. Heraclitus learned these rhythms from the river, I learned about them partly from experiencing the seasons in my other home country, Canada. Evidently, Vivaldi too learned about them from The Four Seasons, as we all know. Wouldn’t Colombian managers gain much by experiencing the rhythmic presence of the seasons for at least a whole year? Or else, where have YOU learned about the rhythms of change from? And looking beyond, do you —–or your children—- know the beautiful Greek mythological story of the emergence of the seasons, a story whose main characters are Zeus, Demeter, Persephone and Hades? Did Greenspan?

What did I come slowly to learn? One must be prepared for the ever-changing cycles of nature. What “is” quickly turns into a “was”; what “is” quickly reminds one of what “will be”. Summer was just here, and now it has turned into autumn; autumn partly means preparing for the exigencies of winter. And the more you live this, the more you see the “was”, the “is”, and the “will be”; and, more importantly, the more you see the bridges that connect the beauty of their interconnected temporal presence. Or as Confucius put it, always reminding ourselves of China´s leading economic role in today’s world: “Study the past if you would define the future.” Living the seasons may help prepare you for something like this. Let us try.


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Educación,  interculturalidad y estudios del lenguaje.

(Breve ensayo para posible concurso académico.)

Aunque son múltiples los senderos que podemos seguir para intentar esclarecer, así sea tan sólo inicialmente, la complejísima relación entre educación, interculturalidad y los estudios de lenguaje, escogeré enfocarme en aquellos senderos que he recorrido en mi proceso de aprendizaje investigativo. Pero antes de entrar de lleno en ellos deseo enfatizar que, dada mi experiencia vital integral, resulta claro que cualquier investigación de la tríada educación-cultura-lenguaje se verá infinitamente enriquecida  —y cobrará un sentido de realidad y veracidad particulares—- si se ha tenido la fortuna y la dedicación para integrar en la vida propia los siguientes cuatro elementos que giran en torno a la temática del lenguaje,  y que inevitablemente van más allá de la simple experiencia académica.

Estos cuatros aspectos que considero claves para una real comprensión de las dinámicas lingüísticas son: 1) el hecho mismo de aprender varios idiomas, lo que nos enfrenta directamente con las dinámicas del aprendizaje y sus particularidades individuales (en mi caso, aprendizaje del inglés, francés y griego antiguo; para no mencionar los desarrollos artísticos paralelos), 2) vivir por largos periodos de tiempo en la cultura misma dentro de la cual el lenguaje cobra su dinámica vital en tanto ”forma de vida” (en mi caso, ciudadano colombo-canadiense con títulos en ambos países y largos periodos de vida en sus diversas culturas, la latina, la anglosajona y la francesa de Québec), 3) el haber podido realizar una multiplicidad de lecturas académicas correspondientes a la temática en cuestión (en mi caso, i) la concepción de la dinámica lingüística a partir de la obra de Charles Taylor, y ii) la concepción —altamente crítica de la filosofía tayloriana— de lo que es una educación liberal fundada en la filosofía política clásica a partir de la reinterpretación de la vida socrática realizada por Leo Strauss y su estudiante Thomas Pangle),  y  finalmente, 4) la posibilidad diaria de enseñar/traducir  el idioma que buscamos comprender en su real y cambiante complejidad (en mi caso, enseñanza del idioma inglés por más de una década, y traductor oficial tanto en Colombia como en Canadá).

A mi modo de ver, al poder incorporar estos cuatros elementos vitales y conceptuales, logramos tener mejores herramientas ——herramientas más humildes y autocríticas——- para intentar siquiera entrar a considerar el enigma que es el lenguaje humano y su relación con la educación. Sobretodo, con respecto a la educación en el sentido griego liberal de las cosas y su postura crítica frente a la dominante, constantemente aplaudida y siempre solicitada sobre-especialización; sobresegura sí, pero muchas veces irrelevante y vacua. Porque parece que cada vez sabemos más en detalle, pero de lo menos relevante. Y porque es claro que la comprensión del lenguaje es inevitablemente, particularmente, el camino privilegiado para la auto-comprensión.

Dados los anteriores elementos quisiera simplemente enfocar la líneas de investigación que de hecho he realizado con respecto al lenguaje hasta estos momentos (¡interrumpidos por la aparición de la enfermedad y su particular lenguaje!), lineamientos sobretodo fundamentados ——a la manera de Aristóteles—— en la idea de que el ser humano es un ser, en parte, por naturaleza político. Es lo político lo que abre, sin lugar a duda, y de manera privilegiada, la particular triada educación-interculturalidad-lenguaje. O como lo dice el programa mismo de su facultad: “lo anterior nace del convencimiento de que solo a través del lenguaje se ejercen los derechos civiles y sin su manejo adecuado el ciudadano estará siempre sometido a la exclusión. “

¿Qué ejemplos dinámicos de interculturalidad podríamos mencionar, hablando concretamente de las investigaciones ya realizadas? Al menos, y de manera muy sumaria, los siguientes cuatro: (more…)

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Reflections: Socrates and Xenophon, the philosophic and the political life

At the very least, this is clear. The most fundamental difference between Socrates and Xenophon might be dangerously summarized by saying that Socrates, who rarely felt the need to physically leave Athens, never wished to rule over anyone under any circumstances, while Xenophon —–his questioning and nowadays seldom read student—– did in fact wish to rule over many under varying circumstances (see Buzzetti).

Or, to put it much more nobly and perhaps more truthfully: it would be best to say that the once unknown and adventure-loving Xenophon —–who had come into direct contact with Socrates—– suddenly came to recognize far outside the boundaries of his native Athens not only the unavoidability of ruling among humans, but also and perhaps much more importantly, his absolutely unique capacity for such ruling when true crisis touched upon his life and those surrounding him. However, later in life he seems to have given up this politically engaged desire for the desire to recollect in writing both tension-ridden forms of life: on the one hand recovering the life of Socrates in his Memorabilia and the other  truly amazing shorter Socratic texts, and on the other hand recovering the circumstances of his rise to fame and glory as a commander in his autobiographical The Anabasis of Cyrus. In contrast, Socrates also never felt the desire to write, not of himself or others.

Agoristic philosophy ——as the foundation of political philosophy—– begins in wonder (thaumazein) at such striking complex connections and deep tensions between the life of politics and the life of philosophy. Its path is that of an understanding of the dynamics of virtue(s); its guide remains Aristotle.



Xenophon only appears in direct conversation with Socrates in two short sections, one in his Memorabilia where he listens to Socrates’ views on kissing(!), the other in his The Anabasis of Cyrus where he recalls the conversation with Socrates with which he began his voyage. These astonishing sections read as follows:

Appendix 1: (Memorabilia I, 4; Bonnette translation)

“These were the sort of things he used to say with playfulness accompanied by seriousness.  On the other hand, he advised that one steadfastly refrain from sex with those who are beautiful. For he said that it is not easy when one touches these sorts to be moderate. In fact, after he perceived once that Critobulus the son of Crito had kissed the beautiful son of Alcibiades, he asked Xenophon in Critobulus’ presence”

“Tell me, Xenophon,” he said, “ didn’t you hold Critobulus to be one of the moderate rather than the rash human beings, and one of these with forethought rather than senseless and reckless?”

“Certainly,” said Xenophon.

“Well, hold now that he is hotheaded and heedless in the extreme. He would even make somersaults into daggers and leap into fire.”

“And what did you see him doing,” said Xenophon, “that you have formed such judgments about him?”

“Did he not dare to kiss the son of Alcibiades, who is most fair and in his bloom?” he said.

“But if that is the reckless deed,” said Xenophon,”in my opinion, I, too, would endure this risk.”

“You wretch!” said Socrates. “And what do you think you would suffer after kissing  someone so beautiful? Would you not immediately be a slave rather than free, spend a lot of harmful pleasures, be in great want of leisure for attending to anything noble and good, and be compelled to take seriously what even madman would not take seriously?”

“Heracles!” said Xenophon. “What terrible power you ascribe to a kiss.”

“And do you wonder at this?” said Socrates. “Don’t you know that poisonous spiders not even half an obol in size crush human beings with pain and drive them from their senses  merely by touching them in their mouths?”

“Yes, by Zeus!” said Xenophon, “For spiders inject something through their sting.”

“You fool!” said Socrates. “Do you think that when those who are beautiful kiss they don’t inject anything, just because you don’t see it? Don’t you know that this beast that they call beautiful in bloom is so much more terrible than spiders that, while spiders inject  something when they touch, it (even when it does not touch, but if one just looks at it) injects even from quite far away something of the sort to drive one mad? And perhaps ‘lovers’ are called ‘archers’ because those who are beautiful inflict wounds even from afar. But I counsel you, Xenophon, whenever you see someone beautiful, to flee without looking back .”

Appendix 2: (The Anabasis of Cyrus III, 1, 4; Ambler translation )

“In the army there was a certain Xenophon, an Athenian, who followed along even though he was neither a general nor a captain nor a soldier; but Proxenus, a guest-friend of his from long ago, had sent for him to come home. He promised that if he came, he would make him a friend of Cyrus, whom Proxenus himself had said he believed to be the better for himself than his fatherland was. So Xenophon, on reading his letter, took common counsel with Socrates the Athenian about the journey. And Socrates, suspecting that becoming a friend of Cyrus might bring an accusation from the city, because Cyrus had seemed eager in joining the Lacedaemonians in making war against the Athenians, advised Xenophon to go to Delphi and take common counsel with the god about the journey. Xenophon went and asked Apollo to which one of the gods he should sacrifice and pray in order to make the journey he had in mind in the noblest and best way and, after faring well, to return safely. And Apollo indicated to him the gods to whom he needed to sacrifice.

When he came back again, he told the oracular response to Socrates. On hearing it, Socrates blamed him because  he did not first ask whether it was more advisable for him  to make the journey or to remain, but he himself had judged that he was to go and then inquired how he might go in the noblest way. “However, since you did ask it in this way,” he said, “you must do all that the god bade.”

So after sacrificing to the ones the god had indicated, Xenophon sailed off.”

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T and Ω: a critical stance on our dangerous desire for overspecialization

I have written elsewhere on the deep need that our overspecialized western societies —–which find themselves in a serious ecological crisis, in confusion regarding the question of the divine and in the presence of multiple deep political tensions—– have for T-type kind of people. I myself am part of those few who try to consider themselves “T-minded” individuals. My resume is a “T-kind” of resume. Although this post intended to show both some of the obstacles for the actual generation of T-minded people, as well as some of the essential and more deeply clarified characteristics of such individuals and their complex narratives, the length itself of these reflections has limited me in this post to a more basic goal. This post will merely reflect and puzzle as to why the letter T might be both the best and the worst candidate to graphically represent what I have called “T-minded people” are all about. Subsequent posts will hopefully deal with the very important issues regarding the obstacles themselves which T-people face given their decision both to be seriously critical of overspecialization and its blind, powerful and utilitarian defenders, and also to fight the generalized and very real obstacles which make the creation of reflective-oriented T-people in our hyper-specialized societies almost, and tragically so, impossible. Our reflective path here will lead us from the letter T to the Greek letter omega (Ω). Both letters, as you will see, may provide the graphical basis for a serious critical stance on our dangerous desire for overspecialization.

Classical liberal education stands as a counterweight to such overspecialization. This can even be seen in the way we educate our bodies. Physical education has become an option for those who want to “specialize” in it. In contrast, the classical practice of a liberal education had a central physical component in the area of “physical education”; it was a very important part of a more holistic understanding of what it means to be fully human. Now, in several highly-specialized countries, this “education” appears as an optional goal given our radical tendency to over-specialize our children. This is a tendency for which we are paying the price in terms of our children’s very own physical and mental health. What is the over-specialized society’s solution? Well, seek a health specialist! And moving from specialization to specialization we move farther and farther from another type of understanding of things, a healthier and a happier (in the Aristotelian sense) mode of being. In contrast, a liberally educated society sees that a “physical education program is designed to cultivate physical fitness, basic athletic skills, and an appreciation of the value of recreational physical activity”. Link

What holistic “physical education” allows is an education in moderation as well as in the beauty of the whole. It also prepares the mind for play and the value of leisurely activity. Over-specialization is founded upon a certain immoderation and the partialized beauty of dissection. One could even go so far as to say that overspecialization rarely knows of leisure, for it must constantly seek further specialization in order to gain the upper hand. Its endless desires know of little rest. Many modern athletes, with their dramatic stories of excess pressure and unwise decisions, are a prime example of such differences. Professional cycling, as in the Tour de France,is only one of many such examples. Our athletes are, regrettably,no longer liberally educated.

In a similar vein, it is Aristotle ——a T-type philosopher—- who expresses beautifully this kind of awareness in the culminating reflections as they appear in the Politics. These reflections can be seen as the most developed words on what are the very foundations of a truly liberal education. For instance, there he writes concerning the best possible education regarding drawing as it relates to generating the conditions for a free and virtuous citizenry:

“Similarly they should be educated in drawing not so that they may not make errors in their private purchases and avoid being deceived in the buying and selling of wares, but rather because it makes them experts at studying the beauty connected with bodies. To seek everywhere the element of utility is least of all fitting for those who are magnanimous and free.” (Aristotle Politics VIII *3, 11138a40-1338b3)

For if there is to be specialization, as there must be, it must be of a very different kind. Drawing and learning to see the beauty of our bodily condition go hand-in-hand for Aristotle. Seeing beauty and becoming a nobler and freer type of citizen also go hand-in-hand. In contrast,for us overspecialization goes hand-in-hand with increased utility; the more you specialize the more “you’ll get out of it”. Just think of the way our athletes are recruited nowadays. Or just ask your family doctor. We have thus lost view of a different form of magnanimity and public freedom which stands as a powerful and necessary corrective. And to such type of Aristotelian drawing we shall try to return when looking at the way we draw in our minds the letter T, letter which stands against such dangerous and self-destructive tendencies towards overspecialization.

Or put another way. Shaw is said to have said: “More and more, we know more of less; until there will come a time when we will know much of nothing, and nothing of the whole.” Our informational age gathers and reproduces very specialized know-how endlessly; just think of the hundreds of blogs posted daily on the web. And one hears, first condition for your blog to be successful and be read by many, specialize it! Or think of the important yet endless publications on the most minute issues which are disconnected from all other types of understanding. Our age specializes in specialization. We are knowers indeed; and yet,paused reflection on the serious limitations surrounding this kind of specialized and self-reproductive knowing is mostly lacking. So much so, that of our age it is perhaps true to say that because it sees only the trees it fails to see the forest. In fact, to see the trees without seeing the forest is certainly what has endangered our dwelling in this our planet currently in critical ecological indeterminacy. In contrast, T-minded people seek to see the forest and traverse the changing paths of the forest to have a clearer grasp, if ever incomplete, of the whole. T-people are forest dwellers, rather than merely tree analyzers. Murdered nun Dorothy Stang, who sought to protect Brazil’s rainforest,was one such forest dweller. And if they in fact decide to “analyze” trees, which T-people can, then they do so with a different grounding, a grounding in the poetic. I have looked at one such form of analysis here: Link

But let us return to our privileged letter, the letter T. Why use this letter as a mode of self-understanding? Please look carefully at the letter itself:


Nothing special, right? We know it and know how to use it.

But I must stop. I am truly sorry for so many delays. We haven’t even started, and yet we already encounter our first puzzle. Why? Precisely because I believe only “T”-minded kind of people will actually seek to stop,see and reflect on the letter itself beyond its utility. I might be very wrong, but I think few ofus have actually looked at the letters we use in our daily lives as the pragmatic specialists that we are. We simply use such letters to write, to speak, to designate, to express. Such letters are not ends-in-themselves, they are simply means to other human things and goals. But, what if what is deeply required of us in our “never-ending progressivist age”, were reflection on the basics themselves? We have become so accustomed to using these letters that we have forgotten that once they did not play a central role in our self-understanding as humans. What I mean is, in part, something like this.

Anne Carson’s beautiful Eros the Bittersweet, a short and poetic study of the Greek alphabet in connection to the erotic poems of Sappho and the dialogues in which Socrates’ life is portrayed,recalls how an illiterate man reported seeing some strange figures which for the literate were obviously letters. But he himself could not recognize ——let alone understand—– them as they were foreign to his self-understanding. Here is what the illiterate man, that same one who abounds in our developing countries,reports:

“I am not skilled at letters but I will explain the shapes

and clear symbols to you.

There is a circle marked out as it were with a compass

And it has a clear sign in the middle.

The second one is first of all two strokes

And then another one keeping them apart in the


The third is curly like a lock of hair

And the fourth is one line going straight up

And three crosswise ones attached to it

The fifth is not easy to describe:

There are two strokes which run together from

separate points

To one support.

And the last one is like the third.“ (Carson, pp. 57-58)

And Carson goes on to “solve” the riddle which for us literate ones is no riddle at all: “The man has spelled out the six letters of the name Theseus: ΘΗΣΕΥΣ (note: letters in Greek)”.And that is not all, this is a fragment of a tragedy which Euripides himself entitled with the very same letters, the tragedy whose name is Theseus. (Have you ever thought about the letters of YOUR name? Do you remember how difficult it was to actually learn to write it down? How much satisfaction accompanied this act! Have you ever seen your name written down in another language and felt the overwhelming surprise?) Describing them so, we recall that each letter goes beyond its function, each has a form and a unique beauty. A letter hides a mystery, one such letter is “curly like a beautiful lock of hair”. Letters can be ends-in-themselves, even in their simplicity. (I have argued something similar for prepositions here , and for basic lines here )

And we come to realize as well, that uniqueness is not universally shared. So much so that we marvel at the form underpinning the drawing of this Arabic letter: ى .. Do you see its curvy beauty? Do you see its elongated bird-like being? Or else, I once tried to learn Hebrew (the things one does for love!), and I recall I had to see, among many others, this Hebrew letter: ש. I am indeed prejudiced as I have come to love lines given my decision to become a T-oriented person myself; but can you see the perceptual possibilities here? Can you see the musicality, the natural growth, the candle-like presence, the ascending spirituality? Can we for one moment be surprised as the illiterate man was? Can we still learn to draw as Aristotle bids, namely, in wonderment? Or are we immune to such surprises given that we cannot get hold of our own global ignorance given our radical knowledge in what are only individual, localized, self-enclosed and disconnected realms? (more…)

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