#14 – language


In 2005, I was interning in Washington, DC. It was a happening time, as Hurricane Katrina had just landed in New Orleans. To me, however, I was more interested in something else.

John Roberts was going through confirmation hearings to become the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Each day I walked past Supreme Court on my way to work, saving the metro passes they gave me for weekends/fun. Each day there was a crowd.

Online I watched as Roberts was grilled. He was a bit of a surprise, and many detractors said that he wasn’t deserving. I recall his most high-profile case at the time had to do with upholding the arrest, handcuffing and detention of a 12 year old minor who ate a single french fry inside a DC MetroRail station.

I watched literally every second of the hearings, and was captivated. I can’t recall much of what was said, only how it was done. With each attempted shot, Roberts parried. It wasn’t that he was avoiding questions or judgement – he simply had such an elevated grasp of the English language that it wasn’t fair. Prepared statements loaded with accusation and indignation crumbled after a simple reply logically demonstrating that the language used was either inflammatory and meant to be take in only one way, or that it was simply wrong.

To marshal command of words is to have ownership of the direction of an interaction. With a strong enough vocabulary, and a patient mind, a person can analyze and respond in kind instead of reacting.

We do this in everyday life when we teach young children to count to ten before reacting, getting angry, etc. I’m currently doing it while trying to learn a new language – React Native, a coding library built on top of the Javascript programming language.

I’ve noticed slowing down to ask myself questions is having a great benefit. Taking notes, reviewing the notes, quizzing myself. The goal is to be able to recognize the code in a natural language form – to “read the matrix”. I’m far from that, but it’s a process.

First I’ve got to just learn some terms, some context. Then I can start associating them. Then I start recognizing them in other contexts, which will allow me to use them. It’s a slow slow process, one I struggle with every single day.

But every day I do know just a tad bit more. A React component is a javascript function that returns markup. Ok, but what does that mean? Well, it means I’m looking for the markers of a function, and context like capitalization.

Growing. It hurts. It’s humbling. I feel like a pimple-faced seventh grader whose voice cracks every time he speaks. But hey – speak away. Change is coming!


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