How did we get here?
In Part II of this thread, I highlighted the cacophony of our current social and political climate. We should recall this appears to be a reversion to the historical mean rather than an unwelcome aberration. Yet, just because this is so does not make it healthy or good. Watching television bombards us with inflamed rhetoric as commentators – conservative and progressive – spew “war-like” intention towards one another. Some might say, “We are at war, so we should fight – and fight like hell.” Perhaps. Especially when goodness, decency, and civilization are at stake. Yet, potent words seem to have lost their power; flimsy facsimiles substitute the emotions they once evoked. A consequence of our zealous vocabulary is watered-down meaning and heightened polarization based on what words we use.
Words inspire, connect, and create tribal identity. Words also determine who is “in” and who is “out,” who is “good” and who is “evil,” who is “on the right side of history” and who is “hateful.” One’s immediate social, political, cultural, and spiritual tribe(s) will determine how these words – and many others – are perceived.
As heard in Godspell‘s “Tower of Babble,” the injection of ego into a discussion, argument, or debate dramatically heightens rhetoric and the stakes of conversation – serving to, consciously or not, ground us more firmly within our tribal trenches. The fast pace of media, technology, and social interaction encourages hewing towards a simplified lexicon, quickly alerting surrounding people of our given alignments. Our sorting capacity is incredibly efficient – and isolating. Rather than mindfulness towards language, we fervently engage in the pitched battles of the day. Fury rises, blood boils, and higher regions of cognitive reasoning are overtaken by reactive fight-or-flight responses. Like kegs of gunpowder, buzzwords serve as psychically explosive flashpoints.
Why do we use the words we do?
Why do they stick?
Why don’t we try new ways of talking to – and with – each other?
What keeps us from engaging in deep self-reflection and self-invention?
Why are we afraid to reinvent ourselves?
Why is stasis more valued than transformation?
Following “Tower of Babble,” a singular voice interjects and silences the cacophony, declaring, “Prepare, ye, the way of the lord.” This language may be alien or repulsive to some, familiar and cherished by others. The point here is not a religious debate – it is the powerful ability of shrewdly deployed words to cut through chaos and provide clarity. The underlying symbolism of this statement is an exhortation to think differently – to see the world differently…to slow down and refresh one’s mindset and awareness.
Self-awareness can lead to transcendence and escape; it can provide a window to re-engage with meaning and purpose. We must seek to think outside the mold – to be creative rather than reductive and repetitious.
As I was passionately implored in Part I‘s dream to “Seek the spark,” I challenge us all to do the same – to pause, think of the words we use and why, and ask ourselves if we are contributing to solutions or entrenching our society in an irreconcilable state of war.
When I was in college, my mentor, professor, and friend consistently held classes spellbound through her artful deployment of language. At the end of a particularly stirring contemporary rhetoric class, we sat on the edges of our seats as she quietly, but firmly, said, “It’s a noble thing we do, holding the world together with our words.” It is a sentiment I will never forget – a sentiment I am constantly challenged to uphold in a society where words seem prized for their destructive, rather than constructive, abilities.
We are undoubtedly engaged in a pitched “Tower of Babble” period in history. We strive for control of history’s pen, society’s structure, and the ultimate manifestation of our planet’s health and wellbeing. Another word comes to mind: abrahadabra. In some translations from Aramaic, this word serves as a reminder – and warning: we create as we speak.
May we carry this mindfulness with us as we create reality.
May we seek the spark.