Conceding to our innermost selves that our words dictate our beliefs — we must change our lexicon to find the change we seek
An expanded excerpt from my essay, America — The Change We Seek, providing a short form concept explanation about our lexicon and how it controls the way we think.
Words are powerful. Words create, and words destroy.
This is a fact of our experience that no-one can reasonably deny.
Yes, one could add that words only have the power we give them, but even that is irrelevant.
We, God, Gods — or whatever you wish to believe — have given words this power by everything we have filled them with, poured them on, and used them for.
We have used words to create beautiful things and world-changing relationships, but we have also used words to murder legions upon legions of people and destroy nations.
Words take lives and save lives every single day. Words bring us inspiration and connection and unity. They bring us together, and they tear us apart. Words bring us pain, discord and heartache. And the thing about words is — no matter what they create or what they destroy — they live on.
Words live on long after we say them and even after we are gone. The words that we speak grow, even after we look away. And they plant seeds that plant other seeds in places we will never even go.
So, no matter what your stance is on the power of words — whether you think they mean everything or nothing — they have played a hand in almost everything that has made up our evolution.
Words are responsible for constructing the world we live in today and the mass destruction we have witnessed along the way.
If we ever wish to find the change we seek, we must concede to our innermost selves that our words dictate our beliefs.
We are controlled by our lexicon
Late theologian, Alan Watts, introduced this notion to Western culture — that we are in many ways controlled by our lexicon. Furthermore, our Western language renders us incapable of conceptualizing the ideas and thought patterns of our Eastern counterparts.
There is nothing like hearing Alan’s lectures on language and you can listen to plenty of Alan Watts lectures online, or read the transcripts of his lectures on various topics. Here are a few key points he made in his thought-provoking lectures on language.
Everybody, who speaks any language at all has, underneath the surface of the language or the figuring that he uses, certain basic assumptions that are usually unexamined, and these unexamined systems of belief are extremely powerful in their influence over our lives.
So, we populate the world with ghosts that arise out of the structure of our language, and thus, therefore of the structure of our thinking because we think in language, or in figuring, and numbers.
Alan Watts explains how people of different languages are capable and incapable of having certain ideas and thinking in certain ways, based on the “basic picture of the world” that the lexicon available to them creates.
The starkest contrast between Eastern and Western lexicons lies in the principle of duality. Western language and the words that form it — and make all other words possible — are dualistic in nature. Creator and created, good and bad, black and white, you and me, right and wrong.
Dualistic thought patterns and mental constructs, especially those as powerful as the very words we speak, lead to dualistic belief systems. Dualistic belief systems make everything in life shine through the lens of you and me instead of the lens of us.
Think of Western and Eastern religion and how religion impacts conceptualization in the daily lives of those who live in either cultural construct.
The dominant Western religions take a very dualistic approach to God. God created humans, and humans are separate from God.
Most Eastern spiritual belief systems view God very differently. God is us, and we are God. We are all one. There is no creator and created.
Many words cannot be translated from one language to another for this reason. Not only is there no word for it, but there is no mental construct to build the word on — no foundation. It simply doesn’t exist because the thought patterns that would make it so are unavailable.
So, back to the difference between the creator and created in Western culture that is practically nonexistent in the East.
In Western culture, because our basis of understanding was built upon the words available to us, our belief systems and view of the world are as dualistic as the words they were built on.
Words like made, created and built are virtually unavailable in many Eastern languages because there is no basis of thought to give the word the meaning that it has in the West.
In the East, the words that would replace these dualistic Western words would mean something similar to our English variations of grew or formed. Instead of things being made by a separate force, they more so come to be.
Perhaps we cannot change our collective beliefs, even when we want to, because we must change our lexicon to find the change we seek.
It is hard indeed to notice anything for which the languages available to us have no description. — Alan Watts
Threads of both duality and non-duality exist in every culture around the world. There are aspects of both in every religion. I am not suggesting that one is all one thing and not the other — or that one is good and one is bad.
Regardless of what beliefs we should keep out of our lexicon or what we would gladly throw away, our language is the root of everything we know and have ever experienced in our lifetimes.
Or, as Socrates put it,
The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.― Socrates
Our words and the words of others are planting the seeds of the future at this very moment.
I am not suggesting that we destroy our culture. But perhaps we have focused too much on tearing things down — things that have grown from the words of our past. And maybe we have not focused enough on how to plant something different for our future.
Maybe, just maybe, if we look at the words that make up our beliefs, we can finally find the change we seek.
I will close with an excerpt from the essay that birthed this story, America — The Change We Seek.
The lives of the people cannot be changed until the world they grow up in changes. The world that the people grow up in cannot change without the evolution of the people who make it up. We make up their world — our world.
Change lies in all the tiny little pieces and those pieces belong to us.
Systemic change does need to happen. It is necessary. But we must not mistake our enthusiasm around systemic change for a complete willingness to change our world. The only way to change our world is to change ourselves.
This is the pill that we haven’t been willing to swallow for 12 scores and 4 years — the stark reality that the very core of who we are, intellectually, is filled with subconscious beliefs to which we did not acquiesce. And if we refuse to be honest with ourselves about this reality, we will unknowingly pass on the same ghosts to our decedents that our predecessors unknowingly passed on to us.
If we truly wish to change our world and are willing to go to any lengths to do so, we must discard the crutch of complete and total blame — and replace it with the torch of reclamation.
There are parts of all of us that are made of the fabric of society. It is these parts of ourselves — the parts the world doesn’t see and the parts that we ignore — that we must change.
The shreds of divisiveness that society has placed upon our hearts are not our fault. But they are our responsibility, and it is our job to find them and eliminate them.
Real change happens not on Capitol Hill but in our homes and in our hearts.
Written by Holly Kellums
Originally published on Medium.com