Creatures of the Swamp

By Balaji Prasad

“Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless." ~ B.F. Skinner

The way things are said can make a difference in how things are received, and in what ends up happening in the real world. This is so because we do not communicate into a void that will faithfully ingest everything that is sent in there in quite the way the sender intended it. For, the destination of the communication is not a Tabula Rasa (a blank slate).

There are many many things that exist inside a person that cannot be directly seen – only divined. And, if you fail to divine what you are dealing with, how can you be effective in whatever it is that you are attempting to communicate? It should be clear that communication should not be all about the sender and what is intended to be sent. In fact, it is significantly about the receiver. Once the communication makes its way to a place past a certain point in the communication channel, the gravitational force of the receiving body is the dominant force.

The “last mile"

Telecom and cable companies are keenly aware of the existence of a “last mile" problem. It is possible to build out a high-capacity infrastructure of fiber and optics and such that can move things close to the speed of light, but which can yet fail to deliver the needed capacity at the point of consumption because the capacity of the circuits near the point of consumption – the last mile – is the weak link in the overall scheme. So too it is with human communication. The “last mile" of communication is controlled by the consumer of the communication, and, as with telecom, it is much more expensive to build or tune that part of the system to make everything work as it should. In fact, it is worse than with telecom – you may never be able to tune those circuits to be receptive because they are fiercely defended by forces that you may not understand.

It would clearly behoove the aspiring communicator to have a keen awareness of the existence of this last-mile problem if they are to go beyond aspiration, to realization.

The laws of nurture

The last mile is a place that is fraught with all kinds of wild creatures that have grown in the swamp that is society and culture. And this nurture by the swamp has happened over years and years, even centuries and millennia. For, do we not still talk about what was supposedly said by people we have never met – people such as Aristotle, Confucius or the Buddha? Do they not wield at least as much power over some of our thoughts as does our ranting neighbor who speaks with a passion that is hard to escape?

We cannot escape the fact that many of “our" thoughts are underpinned by ideas, concepts and emotional triggers that have been created in the cauldron of society. We may like to see ourselves as creatures of nature but are we not as much creatures of nurture as well? Perhaps even much more so?

According nurture the status of a second parent

It is helpful for a creature of the swamp to be aware that it is a creature of the swamp, that the demons of nurture have shaped it just as much as the gods of nature have. And, of course, that when a creature communicates, that it is doing so to a fellow creature – a fellow swamper.

It is not that the swamp is an entirely bad place, despite the metaphor used here to bring out the essence of this idea in a stronger way; after all, the swamp gives us life and sustains us too. The point here though is that it is helpful to be keenly aware of the swampiness of it all so that we are not constantly caught off-guard and subject to strange illusions of being in a paradisical land where everything that is and grows is organic, wholesome and a child of nature alone.

So in a world where nurture is seen as a second parent, when the righteous right-winger meets the laissez-faire left-winger, the two martial artists meet in the middle, take a deep bow, look heavenward and humbly acknowledge that they are creatures of the swamp of society and that they are grateful to the swamp for nurturing them while simultaneously expressing an awareness of their frailty and fragility. And then, after this ceremonial ritual, the two can engage in their fierce art while showing some empathy for the fellow creature that they are thus engaged with.

And so, with this constant and explicit acknowledgement, communication can begin to occur with an awareness of the nature of people not located in a pristine vacuum but in the swamp that has been built by us, for us, and of us.


Balaji Prasad is an IIT/IIM graduate, a published author, SAT/ACT Online and Offline Coach, interview, resume, and career coach at NewCranium. Contact: 704.746.9779 or