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  • Writer's pictureJoia

Today's rhaps is on ... The Funnel Test

Maori Funnel, 19th-20th c, Aotearoa, New Zealand

As president of International Women in Portugal, I often applied the "funnel test" when interpreting someone's meaning: was the large or small end of the funnel being held up to me?

If the large end of the funnel was towards me, they were allowing for what they did not yet know about me. Life is a complex, many-layered thing.

If the small end was held up to me, they had likely already decided my fate and were impatiently waiting for me to fulfill their agenda...

...whatever that was.

Now I'm very good at agendas, once spelled out. I can busily acquiesce or professionally decline to fulfill them. The tasks either fit my internal job description or not. However, small-end funnel types generally have hidden agendas, expecting you to not only see but also immediately satisfy a mystery wish list.

What is your problem? Why don't you know this?

A lifetime of mistakes, misproununciations, and misjudgments have taught me that no amount of conditioning or punishment will ever school me for all potential situations…doing poorly on my SATs, the US college-screening tool, was the first indication. What on earth did these silly questions have to do with the teenage knowledge I’d amassed? My European upbringing had already been in three languages, confounding these very culture-bound US demands. More recently, I've been reminded by the sheer number and variety of pronunciations of Greek philosopher names that our globe is not headed for a unified theory of speech any time soon. Heraclitus? Heraclitus?

I realize that people who expect me to know what they know are not malicious; rather, their own training in anxiety-avoidance follows a more magical kind of thinking, that I will be like them. I understand this, though have not often had the pleasure. My experience says you will likely be different from me, that perhaps we will find a bit of overlap here or there, in time, but we will need to tame each other, like the fox and Le Petit Prince. We will need to teach each other who we are, until our uniqueness comes clear.

Recently two unearthed skulls have complicated our homo sapien heritage, while also pointing to a more hopeful legacy. Portions of a skull found in Israel appear to be pre-Neanderthal, ancestors to one of the populations we annihilated before taking on sole rulership of Earth. On the other side of the planet, the Harbin skull "dragon man" found in China combines the brow ridge we associate with our Denisovan and Neanderthal cousins with the cheekbones we prefer to see in our own lineage. This suggests that back in the day, we were having sex with much of the available hominini. Like the widow spider, we apparently ended our Pleistocene debauchery by getting rid of our paramours completely.

This sordid story oddly gives me hope, that somewhere in our youth we embraced a wider sense of mingling, that once upon a time, we were slower to "otherize" each other into stubborn and foreign identities. That we lingered longer to learn of our myriad differences and peculiar beauties, stopped to envision someone else's take on survival and reality.

You eat those berries, that mushroom?

You hunt the one with the twisted horns?

Your children play in that pond?


I'm given hope, that somewhere in our brutal millenia of history, some of us objected to the slaughter of our differently formed relatives.

As we do now, cringing for the rabid hatred in Jerusalem, the tears in Ramallah, the horror in Tigray, the hijacked childhoods in Nigeria, the wild guns crushing US silence, the tortured prisoners in KGB-land.

So while some of us continue to force and kill and subdue, others of us continue to hope that curiosity and love will keep the funnel pointing outward, toward all that is yet unknown.

Toward all that remains in mystery.

Toward all that is in you.

29 JUNE 2021

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