By Roy H. Williams
A gifted concert pianist and perhaps the most fascinating figure in modern classical music, 31 year-old Glenn Gould stopped giving public performances in 1964, at the very pinnacle of his career. No advance warning, no fanfare, just, “thank you and goodbye.” And with that he walked away from a sold-out concert hall in Los Angeles to begin writing and directing “The Idea of North,” a 1967 spoken-word radio documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
I consider it to be his greatest achievement, for this was a man born to conjure images with words. Gould’s north was more than a direction on a compass; it was an Idea that implied all the purity of solitude, cold weather and snowy darkness; a singular quest for serenity and peace. From the Northern Lights - the beckoning colors of Aurora Borealis; to the North Pole - that magnetic achievement at the top of the world; to the North Star - the guiding light of every traveler who dreams of faraway.
I think north is like that for many of us. Bigger than a mere five-letter syllable, north is a symbol of all that is upward and true. But is north the only direction with deep associations in the human psyche? Certainly not. The idea of west abounds with vitality and exploration, adventure and opportunity, hence the immortal urging, “Go west, young man, go west!” East communicates history and tradition, beginning with going to school “back east” and ending with “the eastern establishment.” South is associated with relaxation, warmth and ease, from sipping mint juleps on the porch of a Southern mansion, to mixing margaritas in sleepy, sun-drenched Mexico, to stirring Jamaican rum with pink paper umbrellas on an island in the Caribbean. Ah, such wondrous associations as these, combine, merge and blend to create that complex composite we call the “mental image.”
Mental images are the universal language of all humankind.
A written language is an organized group of symbols that we connect to specific sounds. A spoken language is an organized group of sounds that we connect to specific mental images. Successful communication is the transfer of a clear mental image from one person to another. Unsuccessful communication is the conveyance of any mental image other than the one the communicator had hoped to convey. Obscenity is the introduction, through any means, of an unnecessarily ugly or violent mental image. Entertainment is the introduction of a mental image more interesting than the one that had previously occupied the mind. Persuasion is a series of mental images that cause a person to imagine doing what another person wants them to do.
Your skill in communication, entertainment and persuasion depends entirely upon your proficiency in conjuring magnetic, unexpected and interesting mental images. In virtually all of life’s endeavors, success will hinge upon your ability to do this.
It’s never too late to get better.