Words are bridges, Color matters, and Junior Parker
Take nothing for granted.
TLDR: Words build bridges between us, and it is our responsibility to create safe passage for others to connect with us.
The world appears to be coming undone in many ways, and yet the Earth continues to revolve around the glowing fusion reaction we call the Sun. The world of human invention, held together by concepts, beliefs, and the mystery of will, is morphing. This process of change is painful, awkward, and revealing many ways we have abandoned ourselves and each other for comfort. There is a healing that comes when we acknowledge harm done, and seek to repair it with sincerity and honesty. The language we use, and the impact of it, are extremely important in the healing process.
Although we are unaware of it, each moment contains an uncountable number of interactions between our body, mind, and awareness. Our bodies are a swirling cloud of possible quantum interactions made dense and seemingly physical. Since antiquity, the questions about how we are able to have bodies, and what makes them function have been raised and some remain unanswered. Equally mysterious, we experience an aggregate of self-interpreting context that appears to arise out of the soft bio-electrical machinery of our brain. Somehow, this mind stays with us, although the cellular structure of our brains continue to shift, die, and self-replicate. The greatest mystery, awareness, is wrapped up under these confusing structures. What, exactly, gives us the capacity to have an experience of life that is subjective? Why are we not purely biological machines, functioning without regard to our own experience? Why do we even have a sense of agency, will, preference, curiosity?
Before we start slipping into existential dread, and feebly attempt an escape into sense pleasures or distractions, let's acknowledge that it's okay to not have anything figured out. In fact, giving ourselves permission to stay in the openness and curiosity of confusion allows us to experience humility, grace, and mystery. Possibilities arise out of openness, whereas bondage lies in the desire to control or manipulate. Our capacity to use language to investigate, reason, and connect with each other is also one those mysterious gifts we often take for granted.
A bridge that weaves our lives together, or brick and mortar to wedge us apart, our words have weight. We feebly attempt to capture complexity in tones that wriggle out with our breath. We tease the subtleties of moods into language that hopes to convey a lived personal mythology. We harvest the impulses of thoughts like drops of water from clouds. All of this, in an effort to invite others to join us in living the story of what life is like within our mortal form. It is absurd, and yet, these scribbles and shapes have a power that transcends time and space; we have even left our words on the moon hoping that some other beings might know how to connect with us through them.
But these words are meaningless without the capacity for us to connect to our shared humanity, and to the deeper mystery beyond it. Our language is not merely an intellectual or mental phenomena. Knowing the word "red" is not the same as connecting the word to the sense experience that it represents. (Here's a Radiolab podcast and an article from one of the interviewees that suggests no one could see color blue until modern times.) Our ideas, words, and thoughts are connected to the cosmos beyond them. Our words contextualize our experience of existence; they are like paint for a shifting landscape of how we relate to our experience within the larger canvas of being. But those words on their own without our shared interpretation are just words. It is the relationship between people's lived experience, and the words we use, that give them potency. That is why one word might be painful to someone, neutral to another, and pleasurable to someone else. This is also why the color of our skin must be acknowledged; our lived experience of those verbal labels carry unique understanding for each of us.
The last decade has illustrated how we are all in need of fine tuning our language in order to create a stable and trustworthy bridge to relate to one another. Introducing or reinforcing habits to refrain from using certain words, or introduce phrases to connect with each other (like using pronouns) may seem pedantic or tedious, but it is important. Many people have great resistance to homogenizing language, claiming that it censors or unjustly problematizes words, and fails to take into account intentions. In response, it is enough to say this effort is to create a culture of accountability for the impact of the words; the lived experience of the person who hears those words, is necessary for us to consider which words to use. After all, our words are a bridge we build between each other. If we build a bridge, but it has holes or bombs in it purposely or unknowingly excluding others from reaching us, the kinds of connections we make will be limited to our own detriment. Taking stock of the words and phrases we use, their origin and associated meanings, helps us to properly build relationships that are healthy and nurturing. We are continually learning new ways to repair the bridges that already exist, and build new ones.
As a process the healing of centuries old wounds, some seen and some purposely ignored, is uncomfortable and unclear. What is certain is that this Earth is our shared home. There is no place to retreat or withdraw as long as we continue to live. We have the capacity to use our language to invite each other into the process of creating a world that lives in loving awareness. The diverse expression of people and other living creatures is what makes this planet beautiful, fascinating, and mysterious. We can use our time in mortal form as a journey to enjoy and appreciate the company, environment, and investigate with curiosity and creativity what life can be like. Or we can further entrench ourselves into outmoded beliefs, stories, and habits that cause harm to ourselves and each other. We do have a choice...until we don't. The lyrics of the Beatles as sung by Junior Parker are so poignant right now, and the message is still true: "Tomorrow Never Knows."