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23 Feb 2014

The Map is not theTerritory

So here I am, it’s Thursday morning, and I’m packed, ready to go to Thailand, Siam, as my partner insists on suggesting.
`As a matter of interest’, I ask him, `when did Siam become Thailand? Do you know who changed it, and why?’
He didn’t know: I said I’d look it up.  I booted up the laptop to go googling, only to become distracted by a message from my daughter, K, who is in Thailand already, and meeting me tomorrow from the plane.
`Mum’, she warns, `there is a convoy of famers on their way to the airport.’
I think she is going to tell me a joke.
`They don’t seem to be threatening anyone’, she goes on. `I’ll let you know when we’re neara.’
Aha. I realise that she is serious.  This is to do with the political unrest that is bubbling in Thailand because many of the country’s residents would like to overthrow the Prime Minister. Not a joke at all.  She goes on to tell me some of the mechanics of what might be happening, and then offers me huge reassurance.
`I have Reiki’ed your journey.  And mine.’
I smile. Then respond.
`Great. As it happens, I always travel in a purple light.  I will send some light pyramids your way as well.’
I read out the exchange to my husband, who looks at me funny.  Reiki and light pyramids don’t figure hugely in his map. He is more likely to be wondering whether I am completely losing it, as I close down the computer and jam my sandals into the bottom compartment of my new rucksack (K has my old one) and give a satisfied `yay’ as I find more straps to tighten up the whole caboodle.
I have no idea, of course, what is really in his head: I am not a mind reader.
`Be careful’, he says.  `Come home safely.’
Our intentions match.

Strap tightening complete, we set off to the train station, say our goodbyes. We don’t linger on this, it just needs to be done.  Then I am on my way, First Class, comfortable, excited, and open to the next experience.
I get to London and take the tube to Paddington.  A blind man gets on at one of the stations, I notice him make his way through a busy carriage with the aid of a white stick, feeling for space where others might look, negotiating the terrain from a different vantage to most of the rest of the carriage occupants, asking for help, listening for answers.  Someone stands up to give him a seat, puts their hand upon his arm, helps him into position.

At Paddington, I next take the train to Heathrow, the Express. First Class again, whoop whoop.  By dint of holding this honour, an indulgence I made because it was on special offer, I get a free copy of Red magazine, and see that it has a feature on the inimitable Germaine Greer.
Germaine Greer, an awesome woman. I remember devouring her seminal work The Female Eunuch, when it was first published. She issued intelligent challenges regarding the mapping out of gender roles and relations, claiming new territory for women. For today, I enjoy a current quote which speaks to me: `a grown woman should not have to masquerade as a girl in order to remain in the land of the living’ (The Change).  Yes. The route map of ageing – how different it seems for men and women, at least in the tableau presented to us by mainstream and commercial culture.

So by the time I am on board my plane, blanket round my ankles, neck pillow in place – oh yes, I do those comfort things – I have much to ruminate on when it comes to The Map is not the Territory, that very well- known quote from the philosopher and scientist Alfred Korzybski.  The full quote is that      
`The Map is not the Territory. The only usefulness of a map depends on similarity of structure between the empirical world and the map’ (1933, Science and Sanity.)
 When our internal maps are no longer useful, when the similarity of structure is eroded or inaccurate, we can change them.  Equally, when we don’t have the capacity or will to understand each other’s maps, or when we try and impose our own maps, relating interpersonally can be limited. While, conversely, when we realise that our maps vary, and strive to understand our own maps and those of others, then we can proceed in a much more open and constructive manner.
By the way, Siam became Thailand initially in 1939, and definitively in 1949.  The word Thai means `free’, and was deliberately chosen to establish a new, independent identity.  Apparently, the indigenous population did not want their territory colonised to fit on someone else’s map.
Fancy that.

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