Friday, March 22, 2013

How do I say what I mean?

Photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson - showing people in conversation

Thoughts are generated in the cerebral cortex of our brains and, if we choose to communicate the idea, it us routed to a part of the brain that translates pure thought into words (this depends on which language you choose to use); we also must select particular words that we think will most accurately express what we are thinking to this particular person or group.

Shocking Gossip!

 The sequence of words may be sent to the part of the brain that controls speech – and there the sequence of words is translated into muscle contractions of the larynx. (We have to force air out of our lungs to vibrate the larynx in form the words.)  But that’s not all – timing of the words and emotional emphasis must be conveyed with the words as well.

Regions of the external brain

Another option is for the sequence of words to be translated into finger muscle actions as we write with a pen or keyboard.  When you write do you find yourself selecting words to better explain your thought? This involves complex feedback with the cerebral cortex. Don’t forget the grammar system and syntax we choose to use to communicate in different settings. I have seen students that talk to their friends on break using “inner city slang” and then coming into class, they use “the Kings English” when they are in a classroom discussion.  Choices have been made...
Street conversation
Truly one of the most magical things on Earth is a conversation between people – a sharing of ideas from one brain to the other... passing through this complex process of speech!

Discussion between person in power with person lacking power
Words are often imperfect vehicles for communicating the ideas that we have in mind.  And the most serious problem with words in that many of them carry with them such “baggage” – that our original idea may get muddled by the different associations that people have with critical words.

Difference of opinion

The associations that we have are built by our history of experiences, the people that we admire; the lessons taught us by powerful people in our lives.  Once established, these associations are very persistent and slow to change.

Take a simple word like  “taxes” and it triggers powerful feelings.  Consider the words “ firearm background check” – and I suspect that is enough to make you want to share your opinion and perhaps defend your position.
We can filter out extraneous conversations to concentrate on the one of importance at the time!
In matters of faith many words have such powerful “baggage” that we may lose the original intent of the word.  For one person, the word “repent” means to tell your sins to the Priest and to receive absolution, for another it may mean to realize when I am engaged in unproductive things in your life and need to “turn around”. Sadly churches become separated from each other over the very issues that should draw us together.
Receiving a blessing
For some, our concept of God brings to mind a Physical Monarch Male located in a distant place.  Other well meaning Christians see God as a spirit whose presence is evident in all of creation. Some see God as being present in three manifestations.( Father, Son, Holy Ghost)

In schools the same disconnect often happens.  Does “to learn,” mean that the person has memorized the same words found in the text or lecture... or does "to learn" mean that the person understands the basic concept and can apply it in a variety of situations.  Whole school systems are built around one or the other concept.
Historically think how our response to the word ‘disease ‘has changed... is a sickness explained as a punishment for past sins, it is caused by exposure to night air or moon light, by evil spirits or witches in our midst, or it is caused by ‘germs’– and more precisely what kind of microorganism – virus, bacteria, fungus,  or prion... and what vector is involved in its transfer?  ... How about genetic information?

I haven't even mentioned  such words as Evolution, Gays and Lesbians, Guns, Marijuana, Middle School students, Welfare State, Immigration, Rap Music, MacDonald's food,  Racial groups, The Iraq War...  I suspect that each word triggers strong associations with most of us - and we are ready to defend our positions...

Language as a tool of repression
Our use of language is fraught with land mines when we attempt to communicate ideas that are important to us.  Each word we choose may set off a stream of thoughts and responses in “the other” far different from out intention. 

Language to teach children
The sad thing is that we each get locked into our positions and become ‘hell bent’ on depending our belief rather than seeking to understand the whole business of meaning – the influences that shaped each of us- and the incredible beauty of humans attempting to share meaning with each other.

Language between the boss and the worker

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