I have been thinking about this: What if it is not ideas, love, problems, or differences but language that fails us? I often wonder what gets caught up, made up, lost in there as things pass from one person to the other.
For example, we can say love and mean many things. I can say I am your friend and it means one thing to me and another to you. Almost everything we say becomes an approximation of what we mean.
When we do touch the essence of the images in our mind, instead of our words being flat they turn into elegant containers for what we mean. But that is not an easy task. A phrase in Igbo comes to mind- ‘mmafulum obi mmili’. Literally it means to make the water in my heart spill, which means to make me scared.
Language shapes how we see. People who speak multiple languages often have different ways in which they see themselves based on which language they use to communicate.
On the other hand, how we see also shapes our use of language. So when girls in patriarchal societies start to have a stronger sense of identity they also learn to assert their subjective opinions.
How does language shape how we see and act in the world? How does how we see and act in the world shape the language we use? How will language shape the future?
I was reading an essay by the sociologist Saskia Sassen where she puts forward this idea that the problem isn’t so much scarcity, or the shrinking middle class or financial crises as it is the language and logic we have used to form the markets that we have today.
There is no scarcity – there is abundance – after all there is so much to be done- needs that are environmental, global, societal, psychological to meet. The kink is that we need to evolve our value systems so that there is a language for these needs.
What if there was a way to fit leaving natural resources better than we met them into the logic of the market? Or a language for global security for those who don’t have it? Or for reducing urban poverty? For compassion? All of a sudden there would be an abundance of work, and opportunities and things to do since those needs are abundant.
That is our task I believe – the creative frontier- to evolve a vocabulary for the things we value as a society. From that perspective there is no scarcity, only abundance.
So two questions would be:
1) What do we see and value?
2) How do we make a language, a vehicle for it?
It may seem utopian. The idea of a flying bird that could transport people across continents once was too.