Why is it that language is often so far removed from the living of life? Was Wittgenstein correct – that it is a distinct world, separate and apart, that really has nothing to do with the “reality” of an “objective” universe? Was Russell’s cutting quips about the bald King of France a way to point out that the primitive outlook of the traditional correspondence theory of language – that words, concepts, etc. are meant to parallel the objective world “out there” – doesn’t quite fit the proverbial bill, and that we are left with a linguistic universe insularly created and forever divided from the noumenal world that Kant had identified?
Take the following short puzzle that was recently heard: “There are eleven birds sitting on the telephone wire. A young boy takes a gun and shoots one, and kills it. How many are left on the telephone wire?” Now, the answer to that minor conundrum should be quite elementary, but depends upon how we approach it.
From a mathematical viewpoint, one simply takes the numbers – a purely “theoretical” approach, divorced from the reality of the objective world in which we live, and subtract the 1 dead bird shot by the young lad, from the original number of birds identified on the telephone wire, and come up with the correct answer: 10 are left, because 1 was shot and killed, and therefore the mathematical equation: 11 – 1 = 10. But it turns out that the correct answer is: “None”. Why? Because once the boy fired the gun and killed the 1, all of the others flew away. Now, one can scratch one’s head and say with self-effacement, “Of course! That only makes sense!” Or, one can pause and say, “Now, why wasn’t that as obvious as the answer now seems, after it is pointed out to me?”
Now, contrast that with “real life”: A hunter goes with his loyal dog and flushes out 3 pheasants from the forest; he takes aim and kills 2; 1 gets away. He is later asked, “How many did you get?” He answers, “Two.” He is asked: “Any left behind?” The hunter looks at the questioner quizzically, with some puzzlement. Why? Because the question doesn’t quite make any sense – why would you ask such a question?
The fact is that there is a language divide – in real life, asking “how many are left” is not a relevant question, because the reality of living one’s life has already revealed the reality of the living. It is only when we turn reality into an insularity ensconced within a theoretical construct does it become a thinking universe divorced from the objective world around us.
For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents the Federal or Postal worker from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job, the issue of the language divide is a reality that the Federal or Postal worker must live with each and every day of your life. That is because you live with a medical condition – the deteriorating effects, the daily symptoms, the chronic pain, numbness, gait imbalance, dizziness, vertigo, cognitive dysfunctions, etc. The “world of language” doesn’t quite “understand” the reality of the medical condition, and is often inadequate to describe or decipher the sensations experienced.
That being said, in order to formulate an effective Federal Disability Retirement application, the language divide must nevertheless be bridged; for, an effective Federal Disability Retirement application must by necessity enter the world of language – of the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A), the medical reports, and legal argumentation with persuasive force; and it is the language divide itself which must become the vehicle for an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, so that when the single bird is shot, there aren’t any left to speak about on the telephone wire that connects language to the reality of one’s life.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire