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The holidays give Jeremy Sherman a special reason to wonder about "wonder."
By Jeremy Sherman
We're heading into winter wonderland. I mean that in two ways. First, the traditional way. Things slow down, and hopefully we get a chance to relax and not just count our wonderful blessings but savor them in a state of wonder, appreciation and awe.
Second, the other meaning of wonder, as in "hmmm... I wonder."
Wonder is a contranym, a word that means two opposite things. Dust, for example, which means to remove dust when dusting furniture, but also to apply dust when dusting for fingerprints.
Wonder is a contranym in that it means both the state of not seeking more answers and seeking more. When wonder means awe, you have ample answers, so just appreciate in wonder. When wonder means doubt, you need answers and are unsettled until you get them.
This holiday season, I'm looking forward to both kinds of wonder. I want to treat 'Joy to the World' and 'Good Will to All Humans' as both answers, and as questions. Yes, love is the answer. I'll join my fine friends donning now that gay apparel of positivity for the season.
But also, in this winter of our political, economic and environmental discontent, I aim to turn up that other kind of wonder. Love isn't the answer. It's the question. How do you love people who are being total jerks? How do you love everyone without love becoming an empty gesture? Love is demonstrated through effort but since our resources and time are limited, what does it even mean to love everyone? Since people want opposite things, how do we care for one without being uncaring to another? We should all be more tolerant -- but what does that mean? Being intolerant of intolerance is itself a form of intolerance.
Everyone claims that love is the answer. Gadhafi claimed he acted out of love for his fellow Libyans. This holiday season especially, I hope we all fall a bit more in love with the big questions. The big challenges ahead demand from us both kinds of wonder.
With a Perspective, I'm Jeremy Sherman.