Romanticised was my view of university.
I had thought that it’d be full of cray individuals with rly poppin n diverse characters. I’d expected to be amongst people whose perspective on life was radically different from mine own. As it was, I initially found that in the most part my peers tended to be white, middle class lefties bearing great resemblance to my own upbringing. That was fine but it wasn’t the melting pot of ideas and experience that I’d wanted. Today, I’ve come to a place where I’m noticing the nuance in all my relationships but it’s still true to say that there was a disappointment in me in those early days of uni, that I wasn’t encountering more people outside of my life bubble. As such, my heart was I think pining for an individual that came from an experience wholly divorced from mine own. That individual, was Emmett Stone.
Emmett is an American man. A New Yorker. A linguist. A blogger. A practising Jew.
Emmett was initially studying at Bard in the US but Emmett also felt that he wanted a change. In explaining, how he came to study in York, he said:
“I wanted to see something new while I still could, given that not too long from now I won’t have the same ability to travel like I do now. I also thought it would be more rigorous than it has been so far, but I still hold out hope.”
You might find my little synopsis of Emmett “A linguist. A blogger. A practising Jew” puzzling and you might feel that it needs greater extrapolation. Well here you go.
The reason I felt it necessary to point out that Emmett is a practising Jew is twofold. The first is exceptionality. In the UK according to the 2011 census, there are a mere 269,568 Jews, a distinct minority. Moreover, the notion of ‘being a Jew’ is not always to say that one practises the Jewish faith in any way. In the same way, a 2010 pew poll put the Christian population of the UK at 64% and yet the average number of people who attend church on a Sunday numbers below 1%. Thus, Emmett’s faith is an extraordinary one in a UK context. The second reason for pointing out Emmett’s faith is that it is of crucial importance to him personally and helps to explain his outlook on life.
Emmett’s journey to Jewish belief was not the average raised this way so act this way narrative. Emmett was raised in a Jewish household but this was a secular, atheistic Jewish house. He:
“grew up with a hardline atheist father and a softline atheist mother. I thereby grew up with rationalist skepticism rather than faith.”
Fascinatingly, Emmett held that in a different sort of way, his atheism had in fact been a faith in an of itself but had not possessed the sort of rituals that we think of with religion:
“now I see that my atheism was also a faith of its own kind, just without as much dogma.”
It’s this unique way of thinking that first drew me to Emmett. He seems to possess a view of the world that to my mind is deeply at odds with what most would consider to be ‘common sense’; how many consider that atheism is a faith in itself? How many come to a belief in a higher being through CREATING A LANGUAGE??
“I made up a language, but it had no culture; nothing was taboo, and nothing was meaningful. The best way, as I saw it, of making up a culture was to make up a religion in that language, which I did painstakingly, and afterwards realised that my atheist-inspired genesis story was very similar to the Abrahamic one, but also I realised that if I grew up with this and not something else, I would probably believe it. From then on I read Genesis, and read Christian theology, thinking that I wanted to be a Christian, but I quickly realised that I do not like Christianity. I also thought Islam was for me and it was not. Judaism, which I was afraid of because unlike the other two it is not only a religion, it is also an ethnicity, and I thought my upbringing took that opportunity away from me. My first time in a synagogue, I was terrified and embarrassed; I was ready never to come back when we all started singing Oseh Shalom, which my father used to sing to me as a child before bed. I began to cry, as I still do to this day from that song, and I realised I was not so disconnected as I believed. From then on, I made the effort to to bring Judaism into my life, and I have never looked back, though I am also thankful that it was my choice, and not forced upon me, that I came to it as a skeptic not as a mindless zealot.”
Despite his great thirst for theology, Emmett decided not to pursue a life of a rabbi. For his reasoning, he cited
“the concern of Rabbinical over saturation, of sorts. That is to say, there needs to be people interested in Judaism who are not working for Synagogues or other Jewish organisations, because otherwise who is financing us?, but also, if everyone is a spiritual leader, who is there to lead? I intend to be an incredibly active member in the community but I don’t need to be a Rabbi to do it.”
It seems to be a truth that Emmett is thinking very deeply about the world around him, basing his decisions not on whims or temporary fancies but on carefully considered judgements. His love for linguistics, the course he now studies alongside German, was not a spur of the moment decision. His love for this field grew up from the tender age of twelve:
“the real beginning was when I was 12, and I would follow the popular kids around with a tape-recorder and notepads so I could perfectly mimic how they spoke. I have always loved it, even before I knew it was a profession.”
It is a truth universally acknowledged that garnering a passion in childhood is good preparation for the world in the sense that we do not live in vacuums. This world is extremely competitive and so getting a head start is of crucial importance. Emmett did just that, his love for communication was planted in childhood and he is starting to see the fruits of that seed today.
“I wrote a language when I was younger, which took a few years, and did over a hundred hours of recording my peers in Middle School.
I wrote a fantasy novel and children’s book, which I gave to my younger cousins. All of them, which I did between ages 12 and 14, were ways for me to deal with ideas bigger than I could express in words at the time.”
Fortunately, Emmett now possesses the words to deal with these ideas of communication. Outside of his course, he regularly uploads videos to his youtube channel ‘Word Facts’ and has almost daily additions to his blog. Emmett’s an incredible guy who’s really doing his best to communicate his love of communication and it’s fabulous to see. I possess a strict admiration for those who express their passion in vivid ways. I think that’s what spotlight is about, expressing passion.
All we can do in this life is grasp for truth. I see that Emmett is doing that in a very real way. The way we communicate can often feel like something that just happens. Talking to Emmett, I realise that it is infinitely more complex.