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Appearances are deceiving ... and everything is just an appearance

Many years ago, when I was still a child in primary school, the teacher asked us to draw a picture. A classmate, Guillermo, completed the task and handed it to the teacher and (as I recall) she said it was "a very poor drawing." Guillermo then took two coins, glued them on the drawing and returned it to the teacher.

I remember the incident, but I don't know how the story ended. But that moment stayed in my memory because it was one of the first times that I became aware (although I couldn't verbalize it until much later in life) that words have more than one meaning and that the way we interpret words has consequences in our actions.

Obviously, when the teacher referred to “a poor drawing” she was talking about a basic drawing to which other elements could be added to complete it. But when Guillermo heard "poor" he understood him (perhaps mischievously, perhaps due to his own situation in life) as "lacking money". And that led him to act the way he did.

We are all in a similar situation every day with every word and phrase we hear because, to react to what is said to us and act accordingly, we must first interpret that phrase. And there is no guarantee that our interpretation is correct.

In fact, interpretation or, technically, hermeneutics is an ancient problem that the Greeks and Romans of millennia ago contextualized in the framework of the relations between human beings and the gods. After all, if the gods say anything to humans, it is of utmost importance to interpret that message correctly.

The god in charge of carrying messages from the gods to humans was Mercury among the Romans or Hermes for the Greeks. He is recognized for wearing wings on his heels and on his helmet. Furthermore, its name in Greek is the origin of our word "hermeneutic" (process of interpretation).

Now, when someone receives a message and understands it (in whatever way they understand it), that person went from one situation in their life to another, from not knowing to knowing, from not understanding to understanding. That is to say, he crossed a "threshold", so to speak. For this reason, Mercury / Hermes was also the god of thresholds, either at the doors of houses or at the entrance to the city.

But Mercury / Hermes, when carrying his messages, never presented himself as who he was, but disguised himself. He did not lie or cheat: the message was transmitted correctly. But, because of Mercury's disguise, the message always had more than one interpretation. Always. And beyond the myth, the situation has not changed.

We can laugh when a young child understands a word with a different meaning than the one his teacher was trying to give it. But what happens to us, adults, with words of great impact on our lives, such as "poverty", "racism", "reform" and even "democracy"? Mercury / Hermes continues to deceive us even today.

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