The thing with a musical instrument is that you do not know how it will sound until you string it, and bring it up to tune. That is the last stage in a very long process. To say the least, it is nerve-racking. All those hours. All those corrected mistakes. Then you hear it for the first time. With experience you get a feel for how it will sound by tapping the soundbox and listening for the resonance at different points as you build. But still, the strings add a new dynamic and even the sound of the first few days will change as the wood adapts to the tension of the strings, begins to vibrate, and settle into a new pattern, adding the final dimension—a mysterious something. Ukuleles and guitars need to be "played in."
I have noticed that the saying "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" is wonderfully true. How can wood from various tree species, dried, cut into thin strips, and glued together in a certain fashion, together with bits of metal become so aesthetically beautiful? It's a kind of magic. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The adage seems true, for good or ill, in many different circumstances. An ancient Jewish story speaks of a trouble people gathering all their gold rings and earrings, melting them down, fashioning a golden cow, and worshipping their creation. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts. In the story it turned out bad, as God judged the people for worshipping an idol.
You can see the same in marriages and families. Two fine people fall in love and marry. But it doesn't work. The new marriage, more than the sum of the two people, turns fractious and the couple divorce. Yet two other unlikely people find each other, marry, and the marriage brings out something that neither seemed to have on their own. It's the same in families. Some families are full of lovingkindness, joy, and hospitality. Others become homes of horror, with no peace and only angst. The individual family members in both cases are often decent people. It just doesn't work well when they are together. In some cases "the whole being greater than the sum of the parts" works for ill and not good.
At present, I am teaching a course War and Terrorism. I teach it every second fall semester, and have for the last twelve years or so. We examine the way philosophers and military strategists have looked at war—the nature of war, why it happens, what might make it just or unjust, the effects of war, and other issues. In broad brush strokes commentary can be divided into those who think war is manageable, predictable, and for which boundaries can be constructed, and those who think war is always unpredictable with often terrifying unforeseen consequences. Politicians and leaders of nations tend to favor the former view. Against the overwhelming evidence of history—wars never follow the pre-war course—they assume that "their" war will do what they predict and want it to do.
It strikes me that for war "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" is invariably for ill.
In the time I have been teaching War and Terrorism, we have suffered the ill-conceived disasters of war in Afghanistan (still on-going after 16 years), and the Iraq war (officially ended, but morphing first into the insurgency and now into the specter of ISIS). In both instances the politicians were confident that "this time" they could predict a swift and good outcome. How wrong they were!
Currently the talk is of war with North Korea, and in the last week or so, with Iran. Will we never learn? No one can predict the outcome of such folly, but the evidence of history is that such stupidity will only bring further unforeseen consequences to the detriment of all. Let's hope more sensible voices prevail.
In the meantime, "the chisels are calling" and I will do a little woodwork as I think about how to help the next generation think more sensibly about how, in war, "the whole as greater than the sum of the parts" is always for ill.
Peace and all Good,