Magical Thinking

Some years ago, my mom and I worked together on an article that was published in an online financial magazine, then tweeted out into the ether, where it took on a life of its own.  That’s all great, except for the fact that somewhere in the transmission from us to the e-zine to the universe, the last line was changed.  What we’d written was: 2011 will see a small improvement in real estate markets, both residential and commercial, up from steep declines in previous years. However, words like “soar,” “blockbuster” and “turnaround year” – all from recent headlines — must be understood to reflect our need for good news, as well as the general spirit of entrepreneurship that exists here in America. Taking these banner exclamations at face value requires either collective amnesia or magical thinking – and neither is good policy when it comes to your money.  

What got printed was this: Taking these banner exclamations at face value requires either collective amnesia or magical inking – and neither is good policy when it comes to your money.

What the hell is magical INKING??

magicalinking.jpg
Perhaps this is magical inking.

After our initial dismay — no one likes their work to go out with a mistake — we had a long laugh about the people who would read it and scratch their heads and think, “Hmm…magical inking must be a new term.  I’ll be sure to use it in conversation….”

My OT professor, who is also a Biblical Hebrew scholar, often points out for us the many mistranslations that have been handed down through the ages. They dismay her, for the most part, and if her life wasn’t incredibly busy, she would have already written a book on the topic of OT mistranslations, but as it is, she currently has only the hours between midnight and two a.m. free.

One such mistranslation can be found in Genesis 16: 10-12, the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. Hagar was the Egyptian slave of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  When Abraham and Sarah were unable to conceive, Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham. Most translations say that Hagar was given to be Abraham’s concubine, but my professor insists no, she was his wife (polygamy was common and acceptable, of course), and this matters, because Abraham eventually casts Hagar and her son, Ishmael (“God hears”) into the wilderness, which isn’t a particularly nice way to act when you’re the covenanted father of Adonai’s people. Real nice, dude….

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Yeh, if you and Ishmael could hit the road, that would be great…

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. So Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham, and Hagar gets pregnant, and Sarah becomes very envious. She asks Abraham to send Hagar away, but Abraham tells Sarah to handle it, and she does, by being so abusive to Hagar that Hagar leaves. An angel finds Hagar in the wilderness and tells her:“Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”

Here’s the rub: The word “against” is actually “with.” According to my professor, it is translated as “with” consistently throughout the Old Testament, except for here. Furthermore, she says that the phrase “his hand with everyone, and everyone’s hand with him” means the exact opposite of what “against” would mean, given that “hand” represents might and power.  So what is being said is not that Ishmael will be the town problem, but that he will be a leader, which fits much better with the Bible’s telling us that he lived to be 137 (the recording of advanced age being a mark of honor) and was the progenitor of the Ishmaelites. The “living at odds” bit is a prophetic statement about the eventual battle over inheritance between Isaac, Ishmael, and Abraham’s other sons, not a reiteration of Ishmael’s position as an outsider.

No matter where you stand on this particular issue — and as we’ve already discussed, you can find oodles of support on all sides of any biblical issue — it does remind us of how we often interpret the words of other people in a completely inaccurate way.

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Bathroom decor based on flawed science.

Remember when all that hooha came out about women using five billion words a day, while men only used three?  (I may have the exact numbers wrong…but you get my point.) Turns out, it wasn’t true. Studies have shown that men and women use roughly the same number of words; they just talk about different things.

What I hate about that now-discounted “fact” about the way men and women communicate is how it has been used to build a wall between the sexes, suggesting that we cannot ever truly connect with one another because of this supposed difference in the way we approach life.  That’s b.s. It comes down to willingness, as most things do. I think if you’re connecting with the right person, you’ll make an effort to figure out what works for both of you.

One suggestion for why this “fact” became part of the zeitgeist (it was posited by author Louanne Brizendine in 2006 in her book, The Female Brain) is that it reflects something that is perhaps more true about the way men and women communicate: that women talk about relationships and all things emotional far more often than men do.

That, I will concede.

But I think that’s changing. Young men today are far more connected to their peers, and to their own emotions, than my generation, and certainly the generation before mine. A 20 year old who’s going through a rough patch is far more likely to discuss it with a friend than his grandfather, who was taught to just keep a stiff upper lip, move on, perhaps pour an extra drink at 5 o’clock.

And in general, I think that’s a good thing, because there’s not a whole lot that can be fixed without some sort of discussion. And perhaps it bodes well, in that the ability to discuss their inner lives may keep men out of the pits of depression, alcoholism, and addiction.

cosmocover.jpgWhile we’re on the subject of things I object to, let the record reflect that I also object heartily to the characterization of women as flighty, neurotic beings whose brains are filled with nothing but shopping, weight loss, and how to bait and trap a man through sex. (Which is exactly what you would think if you perused the magazine aisle in the drugstore. Check out the cover above: sex and weight loss, both of which are critical to catching that man you so desperately need! But I would like to know what the advice is for ‘What to Do When Your Guy Gets All Quiet.’ I’m guessing the answer is cry, scream, break some stuff, accuse him of felonious activities, light the apartment on fire, and storm out — because as this magazine will have you believe, all women are inherently and dangerously irrational.)

detailscover.jpgAnd I object equally vehemently to the characterization of men as knuckle-dragging apes who’ve only recently begun walking upright and can only think of sex, beer, and sex. (True confession: I think of beer a lot. And I am not a dude.) It is perfectly fine if those are two things men contemplate frequently, but I refuse to believe that the sum total of men’s brainpower is given over to only sex and booze. If that were the case, we’d still be living in caves… albeit having ridiculous amounts of cave sex.

Perhaps if we made a little effort to accept one another’s strengths, to value the different perspectives we bring to the table, to talk a bit more and rant a bit less, and to reject these demeaning characterizations of both men and women, we’d all be better off.

Or maybe I’m just indulging in a little magical inking…

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Ahhh!  Now, that’s some magical inking!

If you’re interested in the use of words debate, here are two sources:  NPR: Men talk just as much as women and Scientific American, Men v Women War of Words.  Enjoy, and keep talking!

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