I prefer listening to talking (#53)

Out of window

Spring is coming here in Denmark. I prefer to say ‘coming’ because, although we are ‘officially’ in spring times, I’m not really sure if the weather actually reflects that! Anyway, what strikes me the most is overlooking out of my (tiny) window the pale buildings nearby, with its colorful roofs (red, blue, black…). I’ve just taken a shot, and I’d like sharing it with you.

As you can see, there is an urban-nature ‘fusion’ between the bright blue sky (I love this soothing ‘blue’ – and, obviously, I get excited when the sun comes out here) and the colorful house’s roofs. I don’t know, but I guess there is something different with the brightness here. Everything, when we have a sunny day, seems to reflect this remarkably electric blue.

The blue has a strong impact on my mood, I must say. Somehow, it remembers me the blue of the Ocean. Whenever I go to the beach, this is the same feature that catches my eyes – the “blueness”. The only striking difference is the intensity of the brightness, I reckon. In Brazil, especially in the region where I live (Northeast), the sun is merciless intense. As a result, we normally have a scorching weather. Here in DK, on the contrary, at the same time that we can appreciate the “blueness”, the weather is ‘milder’ when compared to Brazil (actually, maybe I’m making a rough mistake here…call Danish weather ‘mild’).

Well, just in case, here a picture that I found on the internet – it is a beach located in the region where I live there in Brazil (Rio Grande do Norte, south coast). The blue, of course, is also there…but, in this case, there is no city-nature fusion, as here where I’m now, but rather a fusion of three natural elements: the (blue) sky, the blue-green of the ocean (Atlantic, in this case), and the ” beige” of the sand (not to mention the people in the water). This is an ‘artistic’ photo, of course. But I have to admit that, in natura, the place is even more incredible.

Imagem relacionada

Danish divagations II (the smile)

After some time here in Denmark, I came to realize a certain Danish cultural trace (at least this is what I’m able to catch as a foreign). Walking down on the street, it is not uncommon to be surprised by someone smiling at you. Yes, people that are completely unfamiliar to you can look at you and … smile to you! It has happened to me at the supermarket, at the park, and at the street. Typically, it is a glance of a smile, but even so a smile.

First, of course, I thought that it was something addressed to me. Then I started to check out which kind of person used to do that more frequently. The result of this rough “survey” was that older woman used to smile more often that the younger ones. Well, but eventually I was also gifted by some young girl smile.

In a self-centered culture, where the face is a proxy to, obviously, the self, I think my first reaction was entirely understandable. The person somehow only exists to the other when she is seen by the other. More specifically, when their eyes meet. Social encounters – like at public spaces – are ruled out by an impersonal code according to which, if my eyes turn out to meet your eyes, immediately I’m supposed to shift them away – for instance, to the sky or the other’s shoes.

But what should I think when in addition to eyes contact, the experience comes with a smile? Both as quick as lightning? When my eyes glance off someone’s eyes as we walk past on the street, a sort of “relationship” is immediately settled. What kind of relationship? Well, you feel like beeing recognized, but not as Pedro, a particular self (even if I’d prefer the opposite), but as a person like the other. Second, you may feel some kind of reciprocity. Levinas, in a book about the Face, said that the face (not necessarily the physical or even psychological one) is a way to “face” the alterity – but, in Levinas’ account, I recognize the other’s suffering face. Here what I’m looking at is a smiling face, something quite different from a suffering face.

Over time, I finally came across with a hypothesis, an explanation for this (I guess) typical Danish behavior. Smiling is as much impersonal as swift eyes away. Here’s my guess: it is the way that the local culture found to regulate the social behavior, the borders between the intimacy/strangeness. In the social encounters, I unconsciously tell you: “Don’t be afraid, I’m a kind person, and I’ll not hurt you.” But, in return, “I hope you do the same to me.”

My question is: what happens when someone wants to demonstrate some particular “interest” in someone else, as when you are trying to get on with someone? There will be a different nuance in the way they smile, or look at one another? Could be the opposite, I mean, if I’m interested in you as a singular person, should I “ignore” you, or maybe could I have any trouble in staring at you?


What do you feel by watching the short video below, extracted from the documentary Life, produced by BBC? It features the exact moment when some gosling is struggling to take the first steps toward its survival in a new world.


1. I feel baffled

By following which logic, the gosling parents have decided to settle their nest in such a harsh environment? Why at this edge? The speaker gives us a reason quite reasonable: he said that the parents are trying to avoid their broods of being caught by predators on the ground. Yes, I can perfectly understand that. But, while there is now a price to pay, nature seems to show its cards: if by chance, at least one gosling survive, there had been a positive balance. Besides, nature counts on a large number of individuals. Even if this couple hasn’t managed to get through this particular challenge, no problem: another couple could be doing its job at the same moment, or this same couple could be luckier next time it tries to generate offsprings. No having not to eat and getting hungry, they have not choice but get down there.

2. I feel inspired

This one is probably the most human reaction, based on our tendency to romanticize nature, to think that it is ‘doing’ that because only the strongest individual must survive. Considering that there are two full-ground individuals now able to reproduce in this documentary, this could be good evidence that nature ‘is’ right. Drawing on this line of reasoning, many ‘social evolutionists’ believes that, similarly to what occurs in the wild nature, where only the individuals more able to fit the changing conditions of the environment can have a chance of surviving, the same will also happen with humans. As a result, only the ‘best’ individual can ‘survive’ in a high competitive organization, for instance (leaving out culture-driven factors as political maneuvers, although an ‘evolutionist’ certainly will think this ‘political ability’ is a further evidence signaling a best-fitted individual).

3. I feel helpless

However, what this short survival scene demonstrates is: firstly, a strong connection between behavior and previous experiences, probably something enclosed in the gene of these animals (another individual in the past had done the same thing and passed the experience on). Secondly, the action of natural forces. It seems that these little birds have an adapted body – for instance, they need manage to jump in a frontal position – if I have understood the speaker’s explanation correctly. Otherwise, if they fall backward, as it turned to happen with the fourth gosling, who slipped and plummeted down headfirst, then their chances of surviving are smaller. If the collision is belly-first, they should survive the fall – despite the astonishing hits against the rock they must suffer while falling. Even if they succeed in reaching the ground in the proper way, there is still the risk of getting lost in the crevices. Unfortunately, the parents can’t spend time looking for each lost goling. And that is the amazing thing, and the helpless one as well: each of these little animals has no second chance: one simply slip is enough to lead the individual to death. It can’t turn back and jump again. As human beings, we usually learn with your mistakes, but this is not possible to this creatures. Nature seems not care about the question: How worthy is a single life? And life is possible only if they overcome all the odds. Life is accuracy, notably at the species level.


Plastic is, probably, one of the most ingenious discoveries of our advanced, scientific and industrial era. We depend heavily on plastic to the well-functioning of our daily life – a toothpaste tube, a medicine bottle, all the pieces that compound the computer I’m now using to type this post, plastic bags we use to pack our stuff – there are so many applications to plastic-made objects that would be hard to sum up here. In a word: I can’t imagine our life without plastic.

But is well-known that plastic can be, at the same time, one of the worst enemies of nature. Plastic is difficult to degrade. And if we add to this characteristic the fact people are sometimes irresponsible in the way they throw out their no more useful plastic objects, then we can imagine the problem. Indeed, each year, tons of plastic debris are simply dumped into the ocean – the natural habitat of many species of seabirds.

One of these birds is the Laysan albatrosses. What a gracious creature!

Laysan albatross,Phoebastria immutabilis, in flight, Sand Island, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, Northwest Hawaiian Islands. This species is listed as near threatened and decreasing.

These birds have a long wingspan, and they fly vast distances without flapping their wings. They can also spend years without touching land, living for more than half century. As if were not enough all the threats we human beings are causing to their environment (breaking the balance of their habitats), now they face a new menace: tons and tons of plastic that are dropped into the ocean every year. The problem? A recent study shows that this plastic is confused as their natural prey. This happens due to a chemical process that misleads these birds – the plastic debris generates a dimethyl sulfide signature that is the same trace these birds use to identify their ‘food.’ The result: they swallow this debris and then…. they die as a consequence. The photographer Chris Jordan has captured this tragic outcome in images like the next one.



I know. I know. While this is happening, you are concerned with your life. What is the value of the Albatrosses’ life? Your son is infinitely more important. The paper I’m struggling to publish right now is more important. Even what I’m going to eat next is more important. Who, in the so-called “First World” is concerned with the destiny of the plastic waste they produce? Most of the people have a shit for that. And so we in the “developing countries”.

How far goes our self-sacrifice?

Human beings are much more close to the ‘early man’ (primitive man) than might be expected. Imagine the following situation. You (or me) work all day long. You arrive at home and expect to have your meal prepared (by yourself our by someone else). You eat. If it is cold, as is the case here where I’m living, you also expect to be heated. Then you sit down on your couch. You may decide to watch the TV, or work a little more in front of your computer. Your mind could be busy – you could be anxious about the bills you have to pay in the next day. Or concerned about your kids (your younger sun is going badly at school), your wife or husband. Or you might be concerned because of an even more frivolous reason: let’s say because your football team lost the last championship. Or you are annoyed because of a bug flying around your head and buzzing in your face.

I’m not entirely sure, but I bet that most of our everyday activities show a degree of inertia. At best, your noblest personal project is raising your kids in the best way possible, or your dog, or help your old mother/father, keep your house, or car, or stuff in general. Or maybe you have put all your energy in your work – you’re concerned with the future of the company to which you work to. You truly desire that the firm goes beyond all its limits, and you’ll probably feel proud of this accomplishment.

Maybe you have an ‘inner’ voice telling you that your actions and achievements are indeed adding some value to the world. Somehow, you feel you are contributing to making this planet a better place to live -at least for the next generations. You throw your rubbish away every day. You pay your taxes. You buy your clothes, the fuel to our car, and eventually, you make the waitress working in your favorite restaurant happy with some generous (although occasional) tip. You think you are a good guy, a good person.

Yes, someone could say that keep our daily life is an act of courage. After all, affording our standards is not an easy task at all. It takes time, effort, labor, patience. However, I think that broadly speaking, we are far, but far, from a life based on, let’s say, ‘political values.’ I’m going to mention only the political surroundings in Brazil: I venture to say that 99% of the politicians decide to go to this life because of the status provided by this position, the money they earn (direct and indirectly). They hardly are concerned with the public good in a romantic point of view – that is to say, seeing beyond their self.

Well, I think that most people are conservative in a deep and unconscious level. They don’t want to ‘fight’ for anything except their personal and all-embracing way of life. I think this is related to the emergence of the ‘affluent societies’ over the past century, at least in the West. If I need something to eat (from the essential provisions to the most exotics products), for instance, I simply go to the supermarket and buy it. I don’t need to go to the forest or whatever to hunt my prey (Unless if I decide to hunt as a hobby or sport…). And we [middle class?] are also got accustomate to a comfortable life, with our little luxuries (a glass of wine, a warm meal, a private house, a private bedroom, etc.). Hard to get, easy to lose.

I’m not saying we are weak or that we became ‘coach potatoes,’ when compared to our ancestors. But maybe we are less prone to engage ourselves in acts that demand courage and, especially, self-sacrifice – perhaps because self-sacrifice is no longer considered as much as necessary to the perpetuation of our species. You could object that raising a kid or work hard in a line-based company or fast-food chain every day is a sort of “abnegation” or endurance (courage?). This could even be true but is an abnegation inside a narrow world: our world and the work of OUR family. Do you believe that each family is a cell of the society? Working in an interdependent and intertwined way? Private vices, public benefits (Mandeville)?

How much would you be ready to, let’s say, work freely for someone else in order to help them? How about receiving immigrants in your country and assist them restoring their lives, even if this implies some degree of self-sacrifice (let’s say, sharing something that belongs to you with them)? The Brexit: Have you ever imagined if, instead of saying goodbye to the Europe, the Britains had decided to remain and help to build a stronger Europe? In Brazil, do you can imagine ourselves helping some child on the street – giving them some food or even inviting them to stay in our house while we help her to find another place to live?

I’m portraying something far beyond a utopia. Engage ourselves in such a kind of abnegation or not interested behaviors challenge the central tenets of your society, our collective, and personal culture. This society relies on a value hierarchy where the individual is placed on the top; then, the proximal other (my relatives); and then the other that belongs to the same community as I do. We rarely can see further. One person indirectly helps another one only in a mediated way – for instance, through her work.

I mean: if I work for the State/Government, for example, and my job implies to assist homeless people, I do that because this is my job and I’m paid for doing that. Sometimes we heard a couple of histories about self-sacrifice from the part of these social workers, but this is not the case for everybody being paid to do something that was ascribed to them as part of their formal activities. Otherwise, we have no time, no physical conditions, and especially no deep and pristine desire to act towards the other in a abnegate way. We are not stupid, you could say.

Well, this is the ‘spiritual’ background behind what I tried to discuss in my previous post. I have no answer regarding how to overcome (if this is possible at all) this state of things. And, yes, I probably oversimplify the issue. It’s because I have no intention to argue based on “proved” facts or high-level theorization. I’d like just to share some current ‘feelings’ about myself, about the world where I live.

US election and Brazil

As probably you know, the presidential campaign in the US is far from beeing regular according to American democratic standards. It remembers what often happens in Brazil. Specifically, the role played by the media.

Do you remember when, in our last presidential election, a weekly magazine released a feature about the supposed awareness of the Labour candidate about what was going on in the Petrobras?

Now, in the US, the Democratic candidate is accusing the American media of being biased. He has been saying in his rallies that the election is rigged and that the media is producing ‘facts’ against him or his party.

This week, about ten days out from the election, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, acting independently of the Attorney General, had discovered new e-mails that could be potentially relevant in the ongoing investigate process against the Democrat’s candidate.

Do you remember when, at the most critical moment in which the Lower House were judging if they’ll accept or not to open the process that could overthrow the Brazilian Labour Party president, the judge in charge of the “Operação Lava Jato” decided, by himself, disclosure a private (and tapped) conversation between then-President Dilma and the former president (Lula)? Perfect timing, don’t you think?

It’s astonishing to notice that most people don’t care about the truth (especially in an era of ‘opinative journalism’ – I mean, blogs, free comments on the web, and so on). The strategy followed by most candidates or by sectors of the media is disclosure information that can or not be true – similar to a common marketing strategy so-called “weasel” claims. There is no real “truth checker” – because I think that the TV programs attempts to ‘match’ the information that the candidates have provided with the “reality” don’t work (it is fake, actually). Despite that “match” attempt, once told, the words became somehow real. Especially to a large segment of the population so much susceptible to being caught by passion or empty but performative words and apocalyptic scenarios.

However, there are further (and hardly noticed) similarities between these two electoral process. The sharpest one is related to the discourse about immigration in the US election and the “right-left wings” during our last election and especially over the course of the Impeachment undergone for our last President.

Instead of discussing internal or even external current US problems (Medicare, Social Security, the squeeze of the American middle class, social inequality, so on and so forth), the issue of the immigration came to fore. We saw the same in the Brexit rhetoric last June: “We need to take the Country back.”

Fact: the number of immigrants is flattening or even dropping in the US. Even so, there is this idea of building a wall separating the US from the Mexico. Anti-Muslim. They and us (Look this: a woman was attacked in a restaurant in the US because she wasn’t speaking in English but in her native language).

Well, we have long known that sometimes people needs to create enemies to project anything they can’t admit to/in themselves. If the immigrants stop coming, “… we’ll be happier. Our ‘heaven’ must be protected, and we are not willing to share it with you”. The same process is happening right now in Europe, where some countries are refusing to host refugees. I have no idea of the figures, but here in Denmark you barely find someone outside the Nordic ‘visual’ standards. But even a much more mixed country as England was capable of produce a Brexit…

Although we may not have this ‘anti-immigration’ discourse in Brazil (on the contrary – we don’t believe that our country is such a thing as a ‘heaven’ where people would like to move desperately to), we have the same “we-they” mindset. In our case, ‘they’ are all those that supposedly “broken” the country (the “left-wing” supporters). This is the world in which we are living. No matters where you are, the ‘split’ wave is as strong as ever.


In this post, I’m going to briefly comment on a quotation taken from the Danish philosopher S. Kierkegaard. It’s an excerpt focused on the relationship between talk and action. He says that:

Mere gossip anticipates real talk, and to express what is still in thought weakens action by forestalling it.

Here’s the thing. As a result of the widespread internet-base social medias, it’s now possible to everybody says whatever they want. Sometimes we can spend a lot of time only ‘navigating’ on the web and releasing “opinions” (one more amusing that the other). And wen we do that, we have the feeling we’re doing something. But we aren’t. Surfing on the web gives us the impression we’re DOING – when, in fact, we’re only killing time.

But I’d like to advance a different point here. What is the role of talking when you are trying to learn a new language? Well, you don’t need to go so far to realize that is a taken-for-granted believe, widespread, that you must speak as much you can to grasp the new language. Well, I have a huge problem with this.

Even when I’m in my country, speaking my native language, I’ve concerns about the pressure we normally suffer to talking all the time. As a professor, I have to talk all the time. And this, for sure, make me sick. For one simple reason: I think we should open our mouth only if, and only if, we’ve something interesting to say. And, let’s be honest here: only a small parcel of people has something interesting to say. Most of the time, we only gossip. And with what purpose? Killing time.

And to be recognized. Yes. I’m in an academic environment, right? And what I experience all the time? People paraphrasing. In other words: they merely rephrase themselves or someone else. They add nothing new. Just gossip, again. This happens because, otherwise, people fell they are nothing. I mean: if they simply keep their mouth shut, they won’t be noticed by other people.

Would be the silence a proof of weakness? To be ignored is tantamount to be nothing, to be dead? So we talk, talk, talk – as if your life depended on this. I talk, therefore I exist. I’m ‘real.’ Nowadays, my biggest problem is talking. The first point: have you ever tried to speak in a foreign language in the same way (deep way) you do in your mother tongue? My conclusion: when you are in this situation, two options are available to you: one, you are completely fluent, in such a way that you even notice you are talking in a different language. Second: you became aware of the language itself. You can be completely aware of the medium. The form suddenly come to the fore. And then, my dear, you realize you are measured by what you’re able to say.

Remain quiet, in this case, is an ambiguous situation. Is he understanding, someone could ask? What’s the reason for his silence? This is an entirely different situation when you are in our country. There, if you don’t speak, it’s because you don’t see a reason to act differently. Your social status doesn’t depend on your amount of speech. But when you are abroad, the silence has an entirely different meaning. People ‘judge’ you according to your speech – or the lacking of speech.