Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bleeding hearts

click photo to enlarge
One of the problems of humankind is our inability to be precise. Our highly developed language does allow great precision, but it also encourages sloppy short-hand through its broad-brush terms, phrases, concepts, labels, stereotypes, etc. We all find it convenient to use a generalised word rather than describe something at greater length, with more accuracy, and that's something that can lead to misunderstanding and trouble.

Take the term, "middle class". Throw that into a conversation and some people will deny the existence of such a concept, others will see it as the embodiment of every good value, and yet others will recognise it as shorthand for comfortable complacency. Or how about the phrase "politically correct?" Is it a formulation dreamed up by those who want to continue being racist, homophobic, sexist bullies, or has Polly Toynbee got it right when she says, "politically correct society is the civilised society, however much some may squirm at the more inelegant official circumlocutions designed to avoid offence." And finally, a thought that arose with today's photograph - just what is it that "bleeding-heart liberals" are guilty of that warrants this pejorative? How does the use of this phrase advance anyone's argument? And what does it say about someone who can use the term? The fact is that many of our "short-hand" terms are crude, broad brushes that either need extensive, specific, qualification before they are used, or need excising from our language because they lead to misunderstanding or give offence.

This bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is in its first year in my garden, having been bought a few months ago as a piece of wizened, brown root. It's been marvellous to see how a beautiful plant can arise from such unpromising beginnings. One look along the length of this undulating stem shows how the plant got its name, the earlier opening blooms on the right showing the insides of their "hearts" to a greater extent than the more recent flowers on the left.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/100
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On