Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Language not supporting our answers

Raffi asked to hear a bit more about our language not supporting the answers to our questions. The whole initial impetus for this blog came from my wondering about this very thing. Word gravity...that our words, because of their collective and individual history, can impede our capacity to understand each other. And at this particular time, when communication and dialogue are so important, this quality and/or effect seems to me to become even more essential to grasp and grapple with.

In Halifax at OSonOS, i had a wonderful butterfly conversation with Henri Lipmanowicz (Board Chair, Plexus Institute) in which he said that our language is failing us. That we have no language to talk about what we do (as OS facilitator-artists or change agents). And that our current language is structured on an action/reaction worldview--leaving no room for mystery or open space in which to allow the emergence of new forms.

At the Art of Hosting, one of our threads of inquiry was about wicked questions--what they are, how to ask them, how to find them. One of the insights generated from those conversations, was that our language lets us down by not supporting the answers to those questions we most need to explore. Again, i think it is connected to what Henri observed about the action/reaction base--the often dualistic stance we are forced to maintain by the inner structure of English. It actually influences our thought processes. And our culture either reinforces or is reinforced by this. In English-speaking culture, we have an unconscious expectation of instant response--usually opinion. This sets up a dynamic in which we are constantly under the iron weight of expection of response (and intelligent at that) with no space for reflection on or honouring of what we have just heard. This dynamic also seems to set up the competitive, evaluative, externalizing, and us/them engagement style most of us end up enmeshed in. None of this is helpful in developing skills for dialogue.

There are examples of our language strain all around us. Quantum physics has encountered it and ends up sounding just like metaphysics. We often have to turn to poetry and poetic devices to attempt explanations of our intuitions of emergent concepts/forms/processes. We feel the need to create elaborate explanations of even the most simple statement (this whole blog post, for example) and, i don't know about you, but i always feel like i've failed to communicate the thought-form in my mind. Read a little Buckminster Fuller if you want another example of someone actively (and often impenetrably) grappling with this.
You may have noticed that i often use what appear to be passive constructions on this blog. It seems to me, it may be, i posit that, i wonder if, i suggest...and so on. This is intentional usage to attempt to reflect and grow an appreciation of the concepts of relativity. There are a lot of venues in which this is taken for uncertainty, lack of confidence, lack of forceful presentation--as opposed to my intention of attempting to reflect more accurately the nature of time, space, experience and knowledge.

Want to experience what i'm talking about? Try a couple of these wicked questions on for a moment and see what happens. Maybe try answering them and then reading them back to yourself using a different understanding of the words you have used (use a dictionary if you need inspiration). Just see what happens. Or better yet!!! Host a conversation with a couple of good friends or complete strangers using these questions (strive for understanding, rather than agreement):

What is the antidote to fear?
What is sacred?
What is worth living for?
How can we become our best selves?

I am certain (and that's unusual for me), that at some point in this exercise, you will find yourself struggling to find words to express your thought-sense. And if we are lucky, we will witness the reluctant birth of a new poet.

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