Thursday, October 26, 2017

Finding a voice again

Welcome back! It has been four years since the last time I attempted to update this blog. To be honest, I am not sure that I will write often: it seems in my small corner of the world that people do not keep blogs anymore unless they are published bakers or full-time political commentators, and I am neither. 

Things have happened over the intervening silent years, however, which have served to confuse and scatter my thoughts. Not knowing what to think anymore is a state closely related to not knowing who one is anymore. At least, I have found this to be so. It has always been in writing that I have found the most clarity, and today I will begin an attempt to find my voice again on this blog. 

A Leaf of Thought
Thus Adam gave names to all the cattle, and all that flies in the air, and all the wild beasts; and still Adam had no mate of his own kind. Gen. 2:20

It struck me today that much of the division we see in the world is sustained by language. In a sense, what is language but classification– that is, division and demarcation? On this topic, the broad field of hermeneutics (the interpretation of meaning) yields the fruit of many theories and questions, but without becoming too technical, I would merely observe that as human beings, we seem to love dividing the world, beginning with language. 

The words we use regarding gender, for example, are becoming slowly but increasingly fraught. Notwithstanding the two-spirited as understood by indigenous American people, the humble terms "man" and "woman" have generally served people well in the past. Today it is a point of real consternation among some that we use only these words, as if they impoverish us as people, or as if there is something wrong with them intrinsically. 
I think there is something to be said for allowing that most people do not neatly conform to a narrow prescription of masculinity or femininity, and acknowledging the many unique understandings we humans have about our own identities. Surely, though, this is a matter of common sense, and "man" and "woman" are coming under fire unjustly, for failing at a job they were never intended to perform?

In other words, it is perhaps naïve to suppose that our language will achieve better representation (or ultimately, justice or happiness) for humankind by crafting and enforcing the use of new words to describe unique understandings of gender identity. In doing so, are we not using our first tool, language, to divide, when there is a much simpler remedy for our trouble? Might we not build some unity and peace among ourselves, instead, by agreeing first that human beings generally come as male or female, with some exceptions, and second that individuals are free to interpret for themselves how to be male or female? I wonder why we create more and more boxes for ourselves.

The United States is sometimes disparaged as a land ruled by individualism, to the detriment of the community or the group. Without a doubt, the sacred character of the individual is still honored here, at least in theory. Yet I think that ironically, we can be misguided and misled to use words that not only harm our community as fellow members of a nation, but also dishonor our individuality through their reductive generalization. The problem is that none of our words can be specific enough to truly capture a phenomenon as explosively, defiantly unique as a human being. 

As an afterthought, I will add the observation that language achieves beauty when it is both very specific (dividing) and very broad (inviting), as in poetry. But that is all, because I intended to paint only a leaf of thought here, and not a branch or the whole tree.

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