Thursday, September 2, 2010

Getting Out of the Language Box

Our various languages are tools that we are taught to use in order to communicate with each other. That is obvious. But tools are not inclined to be always beneficial. A craftsman can build a house with a hammer and other tools, yet the same tools in the hands of a maniac can wreak havoc. Since language is a tool, it can facilitate understanding, lead to profound and loving relationships, disseminate vital information, etc.

But there is a downside to the assumption that the use of language is the only valid medium through which reality can be expressed. Most languages in use today by “developed” societies are fraught with structural limitations that restrict one’s ability to create an expansive self awareness. Thus personal enlightenment is attenuated unduly.

The tacit assumption that language embodies a complete and accurate nomenclature of every possible experience forces a coarsening of the subtle variations, nuances and conceptual relationships which form the rich mental experience that makes each of us unique. To illustrate just one of many linguistic shortcomings let’s consider the conceptual relationship of two important words we all know: ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’.

Each of these words expresses the strongest of emotions doubtless. Without question the linguistic convention we all accept is that these two words express emotions that could not possibly be more extreme from each other. Yet I aver that in reality these two words represent emotional states that are most closely related and not at all opposite.

To love is to care deeply about an affective object. The opposite of caring deeply is to care not at all. To hate is also to care deeply about an affective object. Again the opposite is to care not at all. Now obviously the emotional reaction to the caring will be different in effect and affect so that the outcome which results in behavior appears to make the two activities opposed, but, in reality ‘love’ and ‘hate’ center about the interpretation of one’s relationship to another for example. Both ‘love’ and ‘hate’ describe the emotional experience of one who cares deeply rather than not at all. Thus, not caring at all is the opposite of the emotional activities represented by both words.

Now, if this seems inconsequential, then it illustrates how dangerous to our healthy apprehension of reality such erroneous assumptions become. We seem to exist in a bifurcated universe populated with opposing concepts that belie the true unity of our experience.

Just as I have illustrated that ‘love’ and ‘hate’ are not really opposites, the same can be applied to many other pairs of words whose underlying concepts are not intrinsically opposed; for example, ‘real’/’imaginary’; ‘objective’/subjective’; ‘concrete’/’abstract’, etc ad infinitum.

These erroneous effects of linguistic convention cause one to reject as invalid or inconsequential a great portion of the subtle, linguistically inexpressible experience that constitutes the bulk of our operational personalities. Therefore we learn to reject our own direct experience as reality presents itself in lieu of conventional, inaccurate, yet generally accepted expressions.

The result of such blind obedience to a linguistic model of the universe is that one adopts a small, inaccurate concept of reality that belies the incredibly rich and varied life experience that we would apprehend more readily if we did not reject it by habit.

Another pair of words that is accepted as utterly opposed is ‘success’/’failure’. This pair is somewhat different because it falsely reflects the true state of our endeavors at any particular stage of action. If one devotes much effort and desire to play classical piano, for example he will meet with varying degrees of success and failure as he develops. At no time during such development can he be said to be categorically successful or failed. Such an endeavor must be ongoing so that success is never complete nor can he be said to have failed utterly. Both states exist by degree simultaneously and never to the complete exclusion of the other. Therefore to fear one or the other is the equivalent of fearing both. It is the fear one should avoid without regard to the object of that fear.

A partial solution to these weaknesses in the habit of accepting language to the exclusion of a more expansive expression is the adoption of art as a more expansive medium. Indeed one cannot communicate narrow, specific information as accurately as through language, but on other levels artistic expression is not bound so tightly to convention. Therefore, art allows for the validation of experience that is otherwise inexpressible, allowing for the possibility of a greater degree of enlightenment.

These paragraphs only call to attention a very small number of bad linguistic habits that permeate our social structure. The irony here is that to critique language with specificity one must use it.

Please cultivate the habit when contemplating the real meaning of “opposing pairs” of words to ask yourself, ‘is there really a dividing line between these words? And while you are asking that, ask also ‘Where is the dividing line between myself and the rest of the universe.?’