I was glad my son, Ted, understood what “no” meant. He was my oldest son, and he was in my line of sight, running towards the street; down the street, coming in our direction, careened a car moving at a fairly fast rate for this circular street in a quiet suburb just outside of Buffalo, New York. I screamed “no” to Ted at the top of my lungs, followed up with something like “Don’t go in the street, there’s a car moving in your direction, and it’s moving fast! When I yelled “no” thankfully Ted stopped at the curb—now my heart could go back to where it was—somewhere in the vicinity of my right lung, thumping quickly.
I’m not a saint in parenting, too many shortcomings than I care to remember, but also times of great and beautiful love. I screamed “no” because I was scared to death, and it was just an automatic response.
From the time we created language out of sounds, screams, love moans and grunts, whispers in a cave, to painting and hieroglyphics with symbols etched in some nature-based, colorful as sea urchins\on the wall—Speak--language has been a powerful tool for cooperation and/or competition and peace and/or war, conflict and/or serenity. Within their civilization, there was also a need to warn others of impending attacks, roaming animals or calling everyone into dinner; eventually words were ciphers for verbal and non-verbal signals. Language, then, was a survival mechanism.
Many arcane and up-to-date cultures created individualized languages or dialects; they often saw people, objects, places, and names or words as having sacred power and value. This was their nature of words. They viewed certain words as possessing inherent sacramental energy, or power due to being blessed by a priest or shaman. Words could destroy. Words could save. Words could heal. Words could give guidance. Succinctly, words were potent. A word itself carried with it the DNA of meaning, with each represented symbol contained in their specialized humanity.
First of all, contemporary America wears a relatively young culture-label when compared with other, much older civilizations such as the European, South East Asian, and Indigenous Peoples around the globe. We, on the other hand, want instant meaning, USA Today, sound bites, flashy, color-coded images, instant appropriateness, perfection and honesty, and instant comprehension and understanding; the words are written on paper, spoken on waves through the air, or through digital means, penned in memos, and said across tables or fences—what we want to know is the ‘the meaning between the lines,’ which is appropriate because linear cultures often try to stay between the lines on the road, but miss the meta meaning of the deep structure of someone’s thoughts or words. Words, enlivened with vivaciousness, and understood (by common meaning) by both the encoder and decoder is one way language unifies and bridges many cultural gaps. And we want to know all of these elemental aspects of language yesterday.
Language also is the collected structure, style, grammar/syntax, non-verbal communication, species-to-species communication, communicating meta-meaning, culturally-applied denotations (the literal meaning) and connotations (the figurative or metaphorical meaning), as well as symbolic objects, rituals or words, such as American Sign Language —Object Language such as dress, recreational trends, colloquialisms and euphemisms, food, celebrations, marking special occasions or times, etc.
Language can be clear, ambiguous, congruent, may highlight acceptance with empathy for others, disassociated, controlling, power-based, understanding, and with the attentive awareness of intentionally communicating to see if your listener is getting the same message you’re trying to send. In therapeutic contexts, empathetic and solution-based listening may be a very healing method between two people, or within a group.
Languages may powerfully birth community, or destroy the spirit of a people. It reminds me of one South American country that was fighting to put down a revolutionary coup of the government. When soldiers would go into villages, if they found anyone wearing a certain kind of shirt, they arrested them, and the people were told that these types of shirts were banned by the powers that be, because they engendered insurgency, political and military unrest, and rebellion towards the government and its forces. They were viewed as threatening, because they symbolized unity and oneness. They also were nametags for a specific Mayan tribal group, and this was threatening to the government because their goal was to eliminate any vestiges of differentiated cultures so they could seduce the peoples of the land into total subservience to the government’s tyranny.
Censorship, especially in the case of targeting youth, actually encourages risk taking—if something is censored, curiosity usually reigns, because people resist being censored by others. Censorship ought to be outlawed. Language, though, is implemented in diverse ways: it’s used to cover up, hide the truth, bring together, create empowered personhood who may use expressive language or the Arts, moving hearts and minds, challenging people to greatness and activism, actualizing solidarity, arriving at agreement, coming to a sense of wisdom about a topic, and triggering intellectual, reasoned rhetoric for resistance and speaking one’s truth to power.
I’d like to share with you a theory that I have. I call it languaging—a process whereby one can come to see her own ignorance and biases, no matter how many big vocabulary words she may use. A kind of self-introspection and self-reflection is needed to made a sturdier tool for our communication strategies, language, and the ideas that produce it, need to be sought after, not evaded, in our national consciousness; recent racial slurs by celebrities are one such example of learning restraint when it comes to publicly making racist remarks. No one can run away from the ethos of equality.
Language is also limiting when it’s formatted within a duality model: sick or well, unhealthy or living wellness, ignorance or intellectual, etc. Can you see how all of these qualities are opposites in duality, and that, in reality, often we think in black or white, rather than in both/and along a continuum of many scenic points in between black or white, etc.? Gray areas?
Our human minds have the capacity to have inner conversations with ourselves, and also to interact with the organic, multi-systemic environment, in outer conversations to the WIGO (‘Hey, what’s going on out there, anyway?”), synthesizing with the exterior environment, interactively.
People are often motivated by their own anxieties when they find themselves without control, vulnerable, stressed out, mentally or emotionally breaking down, and frustrated by not being able to “fix” some person or thing. Humans, at this juncture, have a panoply of backdrop associations and memories on which to paint a semantic portrait, they may think/do or use words like separation, generalizations, substituting inferences for facts, as well as blocking out those people whom are usually targeted by our wounding language. In this way, the process is perpetuated and any cognitive dissonance is overridden. Thus, nothing changes.
Understanding what I’ve written up to now brings us to one generalization about language: the sum of one’s language can be thought of as a category within a container. It can be used as a sacred container or your trash can in the kitchen at home that is used to collect junk and garbage, and needs to be thrown away.
Language, flowing from hyper-mouthed experts, may demonstrate itself as rigidity, a shut-down mind, fearful machinations or paranoid belief systems. It’s your choice of language that may solicit you a ride down Main Street, looking like a crazed Albert Einstein, or the cool dude, riding calm and collected, in a tangerine-persimmon, lustrously waxed, with pin stripe wheels—Lexus—his name also--gold chain swinging from the inside rearview mirror, with the little kids in the hood running out of their houses, running after the car, wanting a ride around the black, like the Egg Man used to do for us.
End of Part I
(To Be Continued in Bear’s Next Blog)
© Christopher Bear-Beam December 18, 2014