This is not a grasshopper

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the force

of what lives us

outliving the mountain.

John Berger


Last week I was delighted to come across this animal.

Part of my pleasure was that I thought I could identify it. Even though it was now in the front herb garden, and no longer among the camellias at the back, I presumed it was the same fine grasshopper with which I began this series of blog posts.

I don’t think this recognition was at the heart of my response though. The best clue to this  are the words I said to myself at the time. If my response had been recognition of the same individual, I would have thought ‘Oh, it’s that same grasshopper‘.  But this wasn’t my response. The delighted thought that came to me was ‘Oh, it’s you‘. Why did I say You? What did I see that made this a You and not just ‘that same grasshopper’?

This isn’t a minor grammatical quibble. There is a world — an ecology — of difference between the two utterances.

Something important happens to social relations when the word You is said. The easiest way to see this is to think about how you feel when You is not said: when someone talks about you in your presence in the third person, rather than talking with you in the second person. It feels as if you have been overlooked. It is rude. It is the sort of behaviour that turns a person into a thing. It is what masters do with slaves.

‘Grasshopper’ is a noun and You is a second person pronoun, and we tend to think that nouns are primary and that pronouns occasionally replace them. Ethically speaking, though, it is the other way around. You is the word upon which values are based. The pronoun You does much more than replace the noun Grasshopper. It is the word from which we derive the sense of a shared world. The noun Grasshopper is a necessary but inadequate substitute for it.

The first thing that You does is acknowledge presence. You doesn’t refer to a thing, as nouns and even names do. Indeed, You doesn’t refer. What You instead does is address or acknowledge. The meaningfulness of You derives solely from Your unique presence. You are not a nameable or definable thing; You are the being with whom and to whom I say You. In saying You, I do not acknowledge your identity or what you are (i.e. human, grasshopper, male, female). To substitute a noun for the You would be to rudely reduce you. Instead I acknowledge your be-ing or essence or existence: that you are.

There is a second necessary side to this acknowledgement of presence: it is acknowledgement of shared presence. You is always a mutual word, which changes the I who utters it. To say You is to acknowledge that this is not my world, and it is not the world; our meeting has shown that it is shared world, and shared life. You is a word that manifests respect. I said it as a grateful awareness that the You and I were implicated in each other, that being and world were what we did together.

When I said ‘Oh, it’s you‘, I had not forgotten that I was a named human and that It was an individual grasshopper. I knew this. But more important than this intellectual knowledge, based on nouns, was the ethical acknowledgement that this You and I mattered to each other. We were sharing being. Life was not located in the things we were but unfolded as and through the liveliness of our relation.

So it was not ‘a grasshopper’ that I photographed. The photograph is of You.


3 thoughts on “This is not a grasshopper

  1. Dear Andrew
    Thank you!
    What a beautiful interpretation and a great reminder of what it means to live in relation to others. It is amazing that Newton is teeming with pond life too!

    1. It’s lovely to hear from you, Rosalind. I hope you are well. I think we enjoy ponds because they are doorways to another elemental world. When you look at the surface of water, it releases your imagination about what’s underneath.

  2. Andrew,

    A very different way of thinking. We probably don’t really notice small living creatures that are so everyday. And we don’t give them the respect they deserve. If they were gone tomorrow we would suffer and really miss them.


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