Also see: Public Speaking is Important | Selected Speeches | Recommendations
A word of encouragement during failure is worth much more than a dictionary of praise after success. — Anonymous
WHY LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION ARE IMPORTANT
When contemplating our vital necessities as human beings, I find one beyond all others that compels us as individuals to seek one another out—the need to share life's experiences so we that know we exist and have value. I say this because, in the final analysis, we are alone.
WE ARE ALONE
Since the first living cell or cells came into being, nothing living has ever again been alone on planet Earth in the abstract sense because life has kept life company. While this is true on the physical plane, it is not so in the psychological realm. Here, the paradox is that, while we are compelled to share our life's experiences with one another to know we exist and have value, we are forever well and truly alone with each and every thought, each and every experience in our own never-ending stories, from birth to death.
Valley of Fire, Nevada, 1991
A baby comes into the world outside of its mother's womb with its own experience of the womb and the birth process, something the baby can never share, even with the mother. The mother, on the other hand, has her own experience of the birthing process, which she can never share with her own child, albeit they both coexisted within and surrounded by each other for nine months of their respective lives in perhaps the closest association a human being can have. When we die, even surrounded by family and friends, we pass out of life as we know it without being able to share the experience. Ergo, we are born and we die alone—the only person in the world who will ever experience the experience, like a soldier alone in his foxhole.
I use the metaphor of a foxhole to connote one of the most severe tests we face along the spiritual path, because it has always seemed to me that the men who have been hailed as heroes and have received the recognition and medals during war have been those whose actions have often been "spectacular" and were witnessed by someone else. For the most part, such actions were "instinctive," and occurred in the space of seconds in which there was little or no time to think about consequences to oneself.
I do not mean by this statement to in any way detract from what these men have done, for I, myself, have committed some deeds that were relatively dangerous without the time to consider the possible consequences thereof. So I have some sense about the speed of instinctive action, even when other-centered.
But now consider a man in a foxhole, a man sitting wet, hungry, cold, and cramped in a muddy hole on a moonless night with a steady rain falling, which makes sleep impossible even if he could quell his fear of the unknown creeping about in the black night of his imagination. This man has all the time in the world to consider what might happen as alone and afraid he faces the unknown—that time when the enemy has no face.
There is no one to support him, no one to see his bravery as he constantly strains his eyes and his ears for some slight sign of danger, all the while choking back his fear. And there is no hero's welcome, no special recognition, no medal of honor when the war is over. There is only the private knowledge that he did his duty to the best of his ability in a strange place, under difficult circumstances, and that he faced his test—this fear—totally alone.
This is the test of the foxhole; the test no one sees; the test only you know about. This is the test of your courage to keep on keeping on when all about you people are oblivious to your struggle, and others seem to get all of the attention and the awards. This is your personal, hidden, silent test of the agony of doubt in the material world vs. the ecstasy of true faith in the Transcendent Mystery.
Even if we could verbally share an experience with someone who had been through a similar experience, we would still be alone with our own rendition of it because all we can share are metaphors of feelings and emotions through a chosen combination of words available in the language we are speaking. Furthermore, our ability to share the meaning of the metaphors we choose depends on how conversant the person with whom we are visiting is with the language. We cannot, however, share the feelings, emotions, or thoughts themselves because they cannot be expressed through language. Even two people in the midst of a deeply intimate, sexual union have vastly different, private experiences, which neither can accurately portray to the other.
If the notion of being alone is expanded into the arena of life, it soon becomes apparent that we are alone with each thought we have, each question we ask, each decision we make, each rainbow or flower we observe, each bird's song hear or symphony we listen to, and each emotion we experience. We are alone—totally alone—within the psychological world of our own making, regardless of how extroverted or introverted we are. Be it a world of exceeding beauty or terrific horror, we are the sole creator of the life we experience, and we live it alone both as creator of our thoughts and as prisoner of our thinking. As stated by British philosopher James Allen: "Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself." This revelation, however, can only take place through language , ideas, and the freedom of speech. But first there was silence, then came a word, then an idea, finally, the gift of language, and the freedom of speech.
LANGUAGE AND THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH
The independence with which cultures evolve creates their uniqueness both within themselves and within the reciprocity they experience with one another and with their immediate environments. Each culture, and each community within that culture, affects its environment in its own specific way and is accordingly affected by the environment in a particular way. So it is that distinct cultures in their living create in the collective a varied, culturalized landscape, which in some measure is reflected in the myths they hold and the languages they speak, of which author Daniel J. Boorstin says: "Languages would become pathways through space and time. While nations would be held together by their new vernacular, lone readers could seek remote continents and voyage into the faraway past."
Valley of Fire, Nevada, 1991
For us and our children and our children's children to continue protecting the historical context of our cultural evolution, we need to protect one aspect of our culture that we normally neglect: language. Perhaps one of the greatest feats of humanity is the evolution of language, especially written language—those silent, ritualistic marks with their encoded meaning that not only made culture possible but also archives its history.
The transition from the body language of grunts, snarls, howls, gestures, grimaces, and lip-smacking of our ancient forebears to modern language may well have been a gradual process that took place over the five million years or so since our early ancestors split from the genetic line that led to chimpanzees. According to evolutionary theorists, the development of language probably began as a genetic mutation that offered a tiny gain in communication, such as the ability to pronounce sounds more distinctly, and thus helped our early ancestors perform vital activities that required cooperation and coordination, like hunting, gathering, and child rearing. The survival advantage of more distinctive sounds was tucked into a gene and passed forward to an offspring. Through countless generations and the passage of thousands of tiny mutant advantages in the form of physical and mental changes unique, as far as is known, to our human ancestors, the beginnings of what we consider a spoken language emerged.
By two million years ago, an archaic species of human, known as Homo erectus ("erect man"), had developed the physical organs and mental capacity to string together three to five words at a time. This early language might have consisted mostly of simple nouns, the names of tangible objects, rather than abstract verbs and adjectives. By 400,000 years ago, the extinct early people of the Neanderthal Valley in Germany (Homo neanderthalensis—ne•an•der•thal•ensis—the suffix ensis means "belonging to") could do much better. And so a spoken, human language was gradually born out of the Eternal Silence.
The greater part of language is the Eternal Silence out of which sound comes and into which it returns. Without silence, no sound is possible. Conversely, without sound, silence could not be recognized for itself. Without sound, words could not exist. Without worlds, abstract thought could not exist. Without abstract thought, meaning and experience in the form of knowledge could not exist. Without knowledge, an idea could not exist. Without an idea, humanity could not pollute the Earth. Without knowledge, humanity could not create that which is unreal.
I have experienced the Eternal Silence while camping in the deep snows of winter high in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, while rescuing cattle stuck in deep snow high in the Rocky-Mountain winter of northwestern Colorado, and in the Nubian Desert of Egypt. Silence on a still day in deep winter in the high country is so profound that, as a young man, I not only could "hear" it but also could hear the "swishing" sound snowflakes made as they felling through it. In the Nubian Desert, on the other hand, there was nothing on a still day to rupture the silence—not the slightest sound could I detect, no matter how hard I stained my ears to hear.
Valley of Fire, Nevada, 1991
Had I not experienced the Eternal Silence, would it exist for me? Would I recognize it in our increasingly noisy world? Hence the age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does because mice hear it, and squirrels hear it, as do the creatures living in the tree and below ground, where they feel the vibrations it sends through the soil as it strikes the Earth. I would therefore rephrase that question thusly: If a tree falls in the forest and there is nothing to hear it or feel the impact of its falling, does it make a sound? Vibrations are, after all, the essence of sound. This being the case, one might ask: What is the essence of silence, if not inaudible vibrations in Eternal Emptiness?
This question reminds me of something I was told during the winter I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. Namely, that a person alone in the forest could not hear what they said out loud in winter because it was so cold (often fifty degrees below zero Fahrenheit) that the words froze as they were uttered. But, should that person be around in the spring, when the words thawed out, they could finally hear what they said months earlier. This is, of course, a local joke for newcomers, but it makes an interesting point about silence. language
Then a Word
As I mull over the probable events that led to our modern, human languages, it occurs to me that all words are the names of things, be it a touchable entity (a flower, animal, or tool—each a noun); a definition of quantifiably time (a second, an hour, today, yesterday, tomorrow, next year—each a noun); an action (do, run, sit, speak—each a verb); or something that qualities something else (pretty, ugly, hairy, large, small, fast, slow—each an adjective), in time (now, earlier, later—each an adverb), and as a degree (very, exceedingly, little, much—each an adverb or an adjective). Put differently, words define the mental boundaries of our perceptions. A child points to something, hears the utterance of sound from an adult in response to the gesture, and lo, the rudiments of meaning are born. With repetition, a boundary of meaning (a definition) is established.
Put differently, words define the mental boundaries of our perceptions. When we speak, therefore, we are transferring boundaries of meaning attached to names of things, time, actions, and qualifiers, all of which are in some way concrete. With the invention of each new word (each new name), we humans are attempting to simultaneously explore, define, and refine the boundaries of meaning attached to our perceptions of the world around us—boundaries encompassed in the names by which we recognize what we see. When we speak, therefore, we are attempting to transfer boundaries of meaning attached to names of things, time, actions, and qualifiers, which is like trying to fence a portion of the sky to own the stars.
Although many people believe words carry meaning in much the same way as a person transports an armful of wood or a pail of water from one place to another, words never carry precisely the same meaning from the mind of the sender to that of the receiver. In this sense, language, in its fullest experience, is so much more than mute scratches on paper or repetitive configurations on computer screens.
Words are vehicles of perceived meaning. They may or may not supply emotional meaning as well. The nature of the response is determined by the receiver's past experiences surrounding the word and the feelings it evokes. Hence, the lack of a common experience or frame of reference is probably the greatest, single barrier to mutual understanding.
Feelings grant a word meaning, which is not in the word itself, but rather originates in both the sender's mind and the receiver's mind based on personal experience. Since a common frame of reference is basic to communication, words are meaningless in and of themselves. Meaning is engendered when words are somehow linked to one or more shared experiences between the sender and the receiver, albeit the experiences may be interpreted differently. Words are thus merely symbolic representations that correspond to anything people apply the symbol to—objects, experiences, or feelings.
With the invention of each new word (each new name), we humans are attempting to simultaneously explore, define, and refine the boundaries of meaning attached to our perceptions of the world around us—boundaries encompassed in the names by which we categorize, and thereby recognize, what we experience. As words accumulate, we consciously construct sounds to form new words based on utility and/or aesthetics, such as "hugamadinkums." "thingamajigs," "doohickeys," and "whatchamacallits." And yet, the greater part of language is missing in what I've just said—the eternal silence, out of which sound comes and into which it returns.
Think for a moment about the invention of a word and the subsequent conveyance of its meaning through the ever-shifting sands of time. How, for example, did a word like "floccinaucinihilipilification" (viewing something as valueless) come into being? How was its meaning decided and agreed upon? When was it coined? Where did it originate—in a cave, on a trail, in a palace? How widely has it spread? Is it gaining or losing in its usage? How has it managed to survive its travels through time? How was the sound "floccinaucinihilipilification" (flocci+nacui+nihili+pili, all meaning "of little or no value, trifling," +fication) conveyed into writing? How was the alphabet used to spell "floccinaucinihilipilification" created, designed, and its order of letters agreed upon? Who decided how to spell "floccinaucinihilipilification?" One final question, how did such disparate meanings between two nearly identical words as "canvas" and "canvass" come into being? Although the questions I could ask about a particular word are virtually endless, what a story the answers could tell.
There is a cautionary caveat to the use of words, however wonderful they may sound; it's expressed by two Arab proverbs. The first cautions that: While the word is yet unspoken, you are master of it; when once it is spoken, it is master of you. And the second stipulates that: Each word I utter must pass through four gates before I say it. At the first gate, the keeper asks: "Is this true?" At the second gate, the keeper asks: "Is it necessary?" At the third gate, the keeper asks: "Is it kind?" At the fourth gate, the keeper asks: "Is this something you want to be remembered for?" If you doubt the truth of the first proverb and/or the wisdom of second, then notice that words set things in motion, and motion is nothing more or less that a continuous stream of cause and effect—a never-ending story, as it were—for which your word was responsible.
The wise use of words is critically important to human survival because we are creatures who must share life's experiences with one another in order to know we exist and have value. The greatest poverty in the world of humanity is not being wanted and so denied the heart and soul of human existence—love and compassion, which translate into recognition as a human being.
Reality, however, is beyond words because they are merely metaphors through which I attempt to transmit feelings by sending a verbal or written message. You, in turn, must receive, translate, and understand what you think I mean. The challenge herein is that I cannot express verbally how I feel, therefore you can only receive my approximation of what I mean, after which you must translate what you think I mean based on your understanding of the words I have use in my message. Further, your understanding of the words is based on your experiences in life, which are different from mine—even if we're identical twins. language
Then an Idea
Language is not just about naming things, like objectified islands in a sea of eternal silence. It's also about stringing those names together in a specific order, a verbal archipelago, as it were, to express a "thought." But can a thought exist without expression. In other words, can a thought exist in eternal silence? For instance, can a solitary earthworm, deep within the soil, have a thought? If not, how does it function? If so, are an earthworm's thought and an idea synonymous?
This raises the question: Can an "idea" exist without a thought? Put differently, can either exist without some kind of expression to embody them? But what is an "idea?"
According to the 1999 Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, an "idea" is: "any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity." But what does this definition really tell me? Not much.
To me, an idea is a mural of the evolution of human consciousness through time.
Valley of Fire, Nevada, 1991
An "idea," like everything else humanity has given a name to, seems to arise in the universal ethers and infiltrates the mind as an insight, a flash of intuitive understanding, a Cosmic recognition—but of what? It's precisely the of what? that's the problem with language. Words, those structured sounds we utter in our need to share our search for meaning in life, are merely symbols, metaphors whereby we approach, but never touch or capture, the object we attempt to convey by the words we use.
Therefore, as with the falling tree, one might ask: If a word cannot directly touch the object it is meant to define, does the object exist? By the same token, one might ask: Do I exist, if I do not have a personal name, the sound of which I can hear and recognize? Do I exist, if I cannot write my name and see it as a concrete mark made by my own hand?
If we don't know where ideas come from or why one person is granted a specific idea and not another, how can any one person "own" an idea—patented an idea and claim it as theirs? As such, ideas seem to be part of the global, etheric commons, or perhaps of the "collective unconscious," as Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung termed it. By that I mean, to be alone with an idea, is to visit in silence with every human who in any way helped to shape the precursor of the idea though the collective thought that, in time, led to an expression through language. Without the expression of thought, the world would be devoid of even a single idea. And yet, when I allow things to be what they are without attempting to confine them within the intellectual fence of language, I see them most clearly because there is no preconceived structure through which to filter my relationship with them. They simply are, as silence simply is.
Where could a thought come from except out of eternal silence? Was it necessary to break the silence in order to consummate a thought? Probably not, because the first thought was most likely an unconscious act based on an intuitive impulse that produced a pleasing or decidedly unpleasing result.
The first time an unconscious act and its result produced a conscious recognition of the outcome, a thought forever left the eternal silence to reside in the human psyche. At that moment, an apparently random act became the building block of an idea, most likely in the form of a question of whether repeating the act would produce the same result. And so a happenstance became an a conscious process of investigation to satisfy curiosity, which led to a thought, which morphed into an idea, even though the idea's entire existence was confined within the mind of a single individual who possessed no recognizable name or verbal means with which to either examine the idea within or convey it without to another individual.
The first idea was the beginning of a never-ending story—albeit one without title, plot, or final outcome. As such, the simplest embryonic idea began in the silent language of a physical demonstration, which was enough to convey it from one person to another. As the first idea gathered unto itself other intuitive gifts from the eternal silence, the ensuing complications became so great there arose the need for some kind of formal communication, of a verbal language, and so began humanity's search for meaning, with its simultaneous fragmentation of the eternal silence.
Because ideas evolved over millennia with thought and language, it seems to me, they belong to everyone and thus are meant to be free, a point the German poet Johann von Goethe also recognized: "All truly wise thoughts [ideas] have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience."
But now, as I enter the latter half of my sixties, I find ideas take on a reflective glow. They appear in one instant to be amorphous, well-shaped in another, and diffuse in yet another. In a manner similar to an amoeba, an idea grows here and there, only to withdraw its boundaries somewhere else. I therefore find ideas to be living gifts, the embodiment of the Eternal Mystery from which all things arise, into which all things disappear, only to arise again in some other form.
As an ocean could not exist without water, could language exist without ideas? Could an idea exist without a question? Could a question exist without an idea? By the same token, could either an idea or a question survive the parade of millennia without language and a mind to midwife their transformation from the Eternal Silence into the utterance of verbal expression, from the Eternal Emptiness into structural form of written expression?
Whether a bridge, a building, a medicine, or a musical note, each is the embodiment of an idea. And ideas are often taken for truths, despite the fact that our perception is our truth, whereas "The Truth" lies beyond our human comprehension in the great paradox of Eternal Unity, which we humans continually fragment in the linear duality of our bid to understand it. This being the case, our concept of "truth" is but a story partially told through the language of heart and mind, body and soul, which all coalesce in human culture.
To be honored by an idea is, indeed, a magnificent gift, as well as an abiding mystery: From whence did it come? Whither is it bound?
To be honored with an idea is to become its trustee, its caretaker, as well as its resident artist. As such, I add the gift of my love and experience to the idea before again casting it adrift on the sea of human consciousness, like a message in a bottle, to land on some distant shore of intuition in some distant time, where there awaits another trustee. Upon receiving the idea, the new custodian adds to it the gift of his or her love and experience in artistic form through the language of the times before once again setting it adrift to navigate the Eternal Silence. In this way, each trustee is part of the never-ending story of the human spirit embodied in the idea—from its beginning unto everlasting. To be honored by an idea is, indeed, a magnificent gift. language
Finally, The Gift of Language
Of all the gifts of life, language is one of the most incredible. I can, in silence, understand what I think you wish me to know when you write to me. And I can perceive what I think your thoughts are and ask for clarification when you speak to me. You speak and you write, and you allow me to share a tiny part of you.
Through language, we can create, examine, and test concepts, those intangible figments of human thought and imagination, those playful flights of fantasy. Concepts can only be qualified, not quantified, only interpreted, not measured. And concepts can be re-qualified and re-interpreted hundreds, even thousands of years after they were first conceived when preserved in writing—a track, like a footprint, we leave on some durable surface. Language thus guides thought, perception, sharing, and our sense of reality by archiving knowledge.
Knowledge, in turn, is the storehouse of ideas, and language is the storehouse of knowledge. As I said earlier, language allows each succeeding generation to benefit from the knowledge accrued by generations already passed. It is a tool, a catalyst, a gift from adults to children. By means of language, each generation begins farther up the ladder of knowledge than the preceding one.
One of the greatest values of knowledge is that it allows us to search for truth—be it in gardening or in a courtroom, while language allows us to share our knowledge as we strive to attain those ideals that we, as a society, perceive to be right and just. In this sense, language has become an imperative for the survival of human society, not only because the tenets of society are founded on language but also because our understanding of the interconnectedness of everything in Nature, as well as our place in the scheme of things, is founded on the same language. We simply must understand one another if our respective societies are to survive.
Every human language—the master tool representing its own culture—has its unique construct, which determines both its limitations and its possibilities in expressing myth, emotion, ideas, and logic. As such, language is the medium with which the condition of the human soul is painted.
The artist, using words to convey the colors of meaning by mixing them on a palette of syntax, composes the broad shapes of a cultural story line. Then, by matching the colors of words to give expression to ideas, the artist adds verbal structure, texture, shades of meaning, and hue to the story. In doing so, the verbal artist paints a picture or portrait as fine as any accomplished with brush, paint, palette, and canvas; with camera and film; or musical instruments and mute notes on paper. In addition, a verbal picture often outlasts the ravages of time that claim those of paint on canvas, imprints of light on photographic paper, or musical instruments that give "voice" to mute shapes.
As long as we have the maximum diversity of languages as media with which cultural artists can paint verbal pictures, we can see ourselves—the collective human creature, the social animal—most clearly and from many points of view in a multitude of social mirrors. And who knows when an idiom of an obscure language, a "primitive" cultural solution, or the serendipitous flash of recognition spurred by some ancient myth or modern metaphor may be the precise view necessary to resolve some crisis in our "modern" global society.
A case in point is the mystery of the way Mayan farmers fed their huge population in the tropical forest of the Yucatán peninsula. Rather than cutting down the forest and practicing the destructive slash-and-burn agriculture of today, they forged a reciprocal relationship with the tropical rain forests based on ecological acumen and cultural harmony long before the Spanish conquistadors set foot in the "New World."
The Mayans practiced sustainable agriculture for centuries by constructing pet kotoob (plural of pet kot, Mayan for "round wall of stone"). A pet kot is a rock wall two to three feet high that encloses a small area about the size of a backyard garden. Within each pet kot, the Mayans grew agricultural plants not indigenous to their region.
The concept of a pet kot offers today's farmers in the Yucatán peninsula a form of sustainable, tropical agriculture and forest caretaking, should they choose to use it, but only because the "tool," the idea—pet kot—is still alive. What if the words pet kot had been lost to antiquity, and with them the idea had become extinct?
The relative independence with which cultures evolve creates their uniqueness not only within themselves but also within the reciprocity they experience with their environments, such as that of the aforementioned Mayan culture of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Each culture and each community within that culture affects its environment in its own peculiar way and is accordingly affected by the environment in a particular way. So it is that distinct cultures in their living create in the collective a varied culturalized landscape, which in some measure is reflected in the myths they hold and the languages they speak.
For us and our children and our children's children to continue protecting the historical context of our cultural evolution, we need to protect one aspect of our culture that we normally neglect: language. Perhaps one of the greatest feats of humanity is the evolution of language, especially written language, which not only made culture possible but also archives its history.
Language is not something we generally think of as becoming extinct. Yet languages are disappearing all over the world, especially the spoken-only languages of indigenous peoples. As languages disappear, so too do the cultural variations of the landscape they allowed, even fostered, because a unique culture cannot exist without the uniqueness of its language to protect its history and guide its evolution.
While it probably took thousands of years for the different human languages to evolve, it can take less than a century for some of them to disappear. What is lost when a language disappears, becomes extinct, as it were? How many potential answers, how much ancient wisdom, will be lost because we are losing languages, especially obscure, "primitive," or indigenous ones, to "progress?"
As languages become extinct, we lose their cultural knowledge along with their perceptions and modes of expression. Because language is the fabric of culture, when a language dies, the demise of the culture that gave birth to it is imminent.
With the loss of each language, we also lose the evolution of its logic and its cultural myths and rituals—those metaphors of Creation that give the people a sense of place within the greater context of the Universe, because language represents unity within and through time. Temporal unity is the language of memory, those images of experience stored in the human psyche and passed forward from generation to generation in the form of stories, myths, and rituals. Therefore, each time we allow a human language to become extinct, we are losing a facet of understanding, a facet of ourselves—the collective memory of a people archived in their language, a memory that is part of the human hologram. As a global society, we are slowly making ourselves blind not only to ourselves and to one another but also to our relationships within and to the Universe.
Language, which we seem to take for granted, is not something we generally think of as becoming extinct. And yet languages are disappearing all over the world, especially those of indigenous peoples who have only spoken languages. As languages disappear, so do the cultural variations of the landscape they allowed, even fostered, because a unique culture cannot exist without its own language to protect its history and guide its social evolution.
I have thought much about the loss of languages as I have traveled and worked abroad over the years. And it seems to me, that languages are in many ways the reflective surface of the human psyche; therefore, to lose a language is to fracture the mirror and thus progressively distort the image of humanity as pieces of the broken mirror fall into oblivion. What a tragic loss of such a great gift.
Our growing blindness through the extinction of languages is exacerbated by the global spread of such languages as English, which limits the imagination and understanding within the rigid confines of its own fence of intellectual logic. The logic of which each language is born and of which it is caretaker can be likened to a one-way window through which a person can see the world without from his or her own point of view but cannot see themselves within the cage of their own thoughts. Thus it is that the hologram of the human family requires people representing many systems of logic all peering at one another simultaneously in order to see the wholeness of the creature we have dubbed Homo sapiens.
In this sense, a few dominant languages are replacing relatively obscure ones at a tremendous cost of lost cultural identity, history, myths, and human dignity. And to lose one's cultural myths, which only one's own language can adequately portray, is to lose one's sense of place and identity in the human family and in the Universe—one's temporal unity with every human thought ever formed, every question ever asked, every imagining unveiled, and every spiritual impulse born in that sacred land of the psyche we variously call "innocence" or "ignorance."
I say this because each language in its own way reflects the myths by which a people have learned how to cope with life. As we lose languages, we simplify the instructional reflection of humanity's cultural myths and so destabilize human society as a whole. We are, in the name of modernity, destroying humanity's collective spiritual vitality by relegating to the scrap heap of "useless, obsolete" information so many of its cultural myths, the rituals that express their essence, the archived lessons they teach about living a humane life, and the transcendent ideas upon which the myths, rituals, and lessons are founded.
This photo of paleolithic art is from a cliff face between Mersa Alem and Edfu in the Western Desert of Egypt, October 18, 1963.
Since, in the final analysis, language is solely about expressing ideas, is someone not limiting the freedom of speech by attempting to own an idea? If so, does such ownership not go against protecting the of freedom of speech as enshrined in our United States Bill of Rights? language
And the Freedom of Speech
The first amendment of the United States Bill of Rights says, "Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…." But what is meant by the "freedom of speech?" Freedom from what—legal constraints, moral constraints, political constraints? Does it mean freedom from any social restraint to vocal self'expression, regardless of what is said or its affect on someone else? I don't think so because, if there were no social constraints on what one says or how one says it, sooner or later a person offended or abused by someone's language would retaliate, which in itself places a relative limit on the "freedom of speech." So, the question is: Whose right of free speech is protected and to what degree? The flip side of the questions is: Whose rights are being abused if vulgar and hate-filled language is aimed them?
Whatever the answer, I know that former U.S. Congressman John Moss is correct in saying: "When we lose our liberties [such as the freedom of speech], it does not happen in one dramatic moment, but gradually and quietly." As well, I know the following three statement are equally true:
Former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt—"The fundamental right of freedom of thought and expression is essential. If you curtail what the other fellow says and does, you curtail what you yourself may say and do."
Lawyer and politician, Eleanor Holmes Norton—"The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don't agree with."
U.S. Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter—"The liberty of the press is no greater and no less … than the liberty of every citizen of the Republic."
While I know what the "freedom of speech" means in one sense, having lived under both a dictator and the Communist thumb, where I had to be exceeding careful what I said in public, I don't know what it really means since there's no such thing as absolute freedom. On the other hand, I know that language is the passport into the hearts and minds of every human being on Earth. And it's precisely this passport that makes the wise and compassionate use of language so vitally important to the quality of human life, where "quality" equates to dignity, safety, hope, and, most of all, the expression of love. language
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