See The Verb [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Random fact of the day: my waking thought this morning was about The Geography of Thought. No kidding. It’s a terrific book by Richard Nisbett. The subtitle is “How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…And Why.” Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I must have been pondering the bumper sticker we recently saw: I’m With Earth.*

One of the points made in the book, the one that permeated my dream state, is that different languages place different emphasis on different parts of speech. For instance, many Asian languages place emphasis on the verb. English speakers place the emphasis on the noun. In listening to mothers talk to their infant children, an English speaker will say, “Look at the red truck! Do you see the red truck?” An Asian mother will say, “Look at the red truck go!” Do you see the red truck go?”

Why does it matter where the emphasis lands in a language structure? Noun or verb?

The language we use shapes our thinking and seeing. It shapes basic worldviews. Earth as a noun or earth as a verb. Earth as a stand-alone-thing or earth as a moving interrelationship. These are vastly different worldviews.

This was my thought/image coming out of sleep: earth and sky. In a noun world, earth and sky are two distinctly different things. In a verb world, earth and sky are not separate things, they are verbs, actions, interplay of a dynamic relationship. In a noun world, I am also a distinctly different thing. In a verb world, earth, sky and I are not separate things, we are a dynamic inseparable relationship. We.

The bumper sticker is a declaration: I am with earth. It makes perfect sense in a noun world because it is also possible, in a perceptual world of separate things, to be against earth. Nature needs to be conquered, tamed. In a noun world, earth, once tamed, is a resource and resources are meant to be used. In a noun world, we are capable of believing that our actions have no impact on our environment. Action and environment are nouns, separate things.

In a verb world, what you do to the earth is what you do to yourself. No separation. In a perceptual world of relationship, of verbs, it is understood that your actions not only have impacts, your actions are impacts.

We woke to the news of yet another mass shooting. This one in Colorado. As usual, we know that our community and leadership will offer thoughts and prayers but nothing really – not really- will be done to address it. In a noun world, we protect the rights of the individual, the separate thing. In a verb world, there are no mass shootings. None. Violence done to one is violence done to all. In fact, more people are gunned down in the United States in a day than are killed by gun violence in Japan in a decade. The differing linguistic emphasis extends to differing understanding of rights and responsibilities.

Language matters. Where we focus matters. What we emphasize matters. The story we tell is determined by the language we use to tell it. I am with earth. Or, I am earth. I go to worship. I am worship. I seek purpose. I am purpose. Separation. Relationship. A whole philosophy of living reduced to a simple bumper sticker.

So, when we ask complex questions like, “Why can’t we do anything about gun violence?” or, “How is it possible that people in a pandemic refuse to wear masks to protect each other,” our answer is really very simple: our language makes it so.

Perhaps in a world of nouns a declaration is the best we can do. It is a step toward the middle way, a declaration of responsibility to the commons. Black Lives Matter. #MeToo. Stop Asian Hate. I’m With Earth.

*The “I’m with Earth” sticker is from the very cool company Gurus

read Kerri’s blog post about I’M WITH EARTH

Click-To-The-Loo [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Language is fluid and ever changing. For instance, twenty years ago the words “hide,” “snooze,” and “unfollow,” had little or nothing to do with social interactions. You might snooze an alarm-clock but never another person. In 2020, in the alternate reality known as social media, people snooze, hide, unfriend, and unfollow people on a daily basis.

Language is powerful. We both define and reveal ourselves by the words we choose. It’s as easy as the click of a button to eliminate people from view. Click. Gone! Magic. The power to insulate. “Unfriend” and “unfollow” ensure that our engagements are only with like-minded people. Is it any wonder that we no longer need to find common ground? It’s a simple equation: you bug me/I snooze you. “Hide,” “snooze,” and “unfollow” are the words of bubble creators. Fortress makers.

Closing the gates might lock others out but it also locks us in. Either way, click. Gone! A smaller world. Raise the gates for agreement.

Closing the gates is not a function of disagreement. I heard this said the other day, “People say things on Facebook that they’d never say in person.” True. It is corrosive and ugly. There is rarely space for civil disagreement. Ideas are attacked as a first action. Responses are salvos. In other words, no one is snoozed for being kind. Courtesy and consideration rarely result in unfollowing or the ultimate nuke: unfriending. There is no space for civil discourse. We snooze, hide, unfollow because we are assaulted or we assault. Social media is startlingly anti-social.

Many years ago, I had the good fortune to listen to Stephen Hawking give a lecture on the possibility of multiverses, a string of multiple universes. His theory involved bubbles that occasionally bumped together. The bumping opened small windows of communication between the bubbles. The great miracle of two universes brushing together is that they, even for a short time, can communicate. They can share experiences.

Our great miracle is the opposite. We construct bubbles against each other. When our universes bump together, windows are slammed closed. We believe ourselves all powerful when, with the click of a button, we can extract a voice from our “stream.” So powerful is our illusion of the button, we’ve happily become the buttons. No courtesy, no kindness, no listening, no consideration necessary or expected.

Click: assault. Click: be gone.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNFOLLOWING

Search [on Flawed Wednesday]

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I’m a broken record: words matter. They are rarely accidental. For instance, the division between “black” and “white” was created. Our racial legacy is not happenstance. It is by design.

Power does not like to be challenged or threatened and strategies of division are great mechanisms of control. Taking pride-in-ignorance is another – it is a terrific support strategy if discord is the goal. An ignorant people are easily misled.

We enact and reenact Bacon’s rebellion again and again. It is a vicious cycle, a whirlpool that is hard to escape without a clear view of the full story. History, like language, is never passive, it comes with a dedicated point of view – and so we are witness once again to the great narrative tug-of-war.  We could drop the rope if we decided to look at our history, ask a few questions, and perhaps see the narrative slop that the fox and friends are force feeding to white fear as just the latest iteration of an old, old scare tactic.

Misinformation is nothing new. Propaganda is as old as human history. It is the downfall of a critter unique in its need for an identifying narrative to believe almost anything if it provides a sense of belonging. People who refuse to take a step back and ask, “Is this true?” will buy almost any line. Fear is a narrative with an agenda so what-on-earth prevents otherwise thinking people from considering that the daily dose of fear they are being fed might be cooked up intentionally? Trading brains for belonging never works out well in the end.

Black and white. Red and blue. We have a pattern, not a problem.

A people united are an unstoppable force and the worst nightmare of identity politicians.  People unite when their ideals – things like freedom and truth and justice and equality – transcend their small identity bubbles.  Ideals are unattainable – that is what gives them their special uniting capacity. We strive. It’s an active verb with an inclusive pronoun.

Hate and fear – all things divisive – are easily attained. That’s what makes them so useful to despots and control-mongers. Keep the thinking small and encapsulated within the tiny bubble. It will keep the people warring among themselves with no questions asked.

How do we move beyond this pattern and rise above the incessant division that plagues us? Well, we must first desire to see the pattern. We must choose to see. Then, we might be capable of revisiting the words we placed as central to our national ideal and choose to live them. Our words matter. That might require a few challenging questions.

It will definitely require a good deal of soul searching and that’s not such a bad thing. Nations, like people, grow and become better when they grow weary of their dysfunction and go looking for their soul.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Explicitly Divisive

 

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surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Love Your Language [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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You know the old joke: two priests are having an argument so they take their debate to the Pope. The first priest writes to the Pope and asks if it is okay to smoke while praying and the Pope answers “No!” The second priest writes and asks the question this way: is it okay to pray while smoking? The Pope responds, “Of course!”

Language matters. In our current world, inundated as we are with marketers and media – language packed with agenda – it seems we are especially dulled to the power of a few words [or the exclusion of a few details] to shape our actions and opinions. We are easily led. Easily divided. Easily provoked to Facebook frenzy.

The way we frame questions determines the possibilities we see or the possibilities we do not see. That is why it is a mistake for us to frame the questions of our troubled times as either/or questions. To defund the police or not defund the police?  Fear or faith? Us or them? Liberal or conservative? Which is it?

None of the questions we face are simplistic. None can be addressed – or should be approached – with black and white thinking. We’ll only see the poles and miss the million shades of gray in-between.

Leaders that divide-to-rule are especially fond of a rhetoric featuring only two options. They play angel/devil games: there are angels and there are devils and since everyone thinks they are the angel, it is an automatic role assignment to anyone with an opposing point of view. It doesn’t matter what side you are on, the agenda is division so mission accomplished! Language matters.

I’ve heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate. It is fear. Fear splits even the greatest hearts and minds like so much kindling. It creates enmity within and, therefore, enmity without. It reduces and makes the complex things – like listening to others – impossible. It demands that meaning be made before the experience is had – and so it is a rally of made-up monsters.

So,  the opposite of fear? It creates goodwill. Within and, therefore, without. It unites. It embraces and expands and includes. It makes no assumptions. It listens. It ultimately surrounds fear and makes meaning after having the experience and, in that way, relieves the troubled mind of its monsters. It has the capacity to hold a full spectrum of color and options (sometimes known as possibilities). It knows that there is more to this universe than angels and devils can allow. And so, just to be clear in my use of language: the opposite of fear has no opposites. That’s precisely what makes it much harder to grasp than fear. Fear is easy to achieve. Love is an ongoing relationship and has no end.

Language matters. The genius of our system, as it was once imagined, was to allow for opposing points of view to come together in an action called “compromise.” It was designed with complexity in mind. It was intended to pull all perspectives toward a common center, a middle way. An idealist might call that – a common center – something akin to love.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LOVE>Fear

 

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Escape The Freak Show

Very is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen. – Florence King

Tom used to say that watching television reminded him of going to the circus as a kid to see the freak show. He’d pay his nickel and step into a dark tent filled with oddities meant to repel and repulse. The attraction was the revulsion. I feel that way every day reading the news of the latest antics of the current occupant of the White House. We now open our news apps several times a day and routinely exclaim, “You aren’t going to believe this one!” It’s either a freak show or the latest installment of Game of Thrones. Though, the real horror of our current national predicament is that we can’t exit the tent.

I do not need the news to interpret for me what is actually taking place in our nation. I only need listen to what is said. Language matters. How we ask questions matters. How we frame our arguments matters. The labels we use to define our experiences matters. In today’s Washington Post op-ed piece, E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: As George Orwell taught us, how people talk offers a clue about how they think and what they value. Our language, he wrote, “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” He added, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

A president whose language band width is limited to doubling his adverbs (for emphasis, I assume), i.e. very, very, or can find no other adjectives beyond the simple polarities of bad or great is not only troubling, it, as Orwell taught, reveals a lazy mind. Very, very lazy. We should not be surprised that his preferred mode of communication is Twitter and that he’s confused governance with signing executive orders. A bully knows no other way.

Today Michael Gerson, the conservative voice in Washington Post, wrote in his op-ed piece: “Stepping back, cooling off a bit, displaying some strategic patience, taking the long view: The first two weeks of the Trump administration have been the most abso-friggin-lutely frightening of the modern presidency.”

Abso-friggin-lutely! Now, there’s an adverb! And, frightening is an apt adjective.

Building a wall that is already a boondoggle, spending millions to investigate corruption where none exists, picking fights with allies, obsessing over crowd size, vote counts, and television ratings, issuing an ill-conceived travel ban directed at Muslims, abusing a judge for doing his job,…. Frightening. And, like any good freak show, it is drama for the sake of drama. It is governance by threat.

But above all, this: language matters. It is how together we define our reality. Debate (a complex use of language to clarify points of view, make law, challenge laws, express values,…) is the crux and crucible of our system. Our lazy-mind-in-chief routinely defines his own reality and then expects others to conform to his delusion. Bad. Refuse to conform or challenge the sentiment and risk a nasty tweet. Right now, all the other children on the playground are afraid of the sting of the tweet-stick but soon, as happens to all bullies, the kids, red coats and blue alike, will start talking and realize that together, they are more powerful than the angry boy with the simple solution.

It would be comical if only we could escape the freak show tent.

Substitute damn every time youre inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain