Wednesday, March 25, 2015

On Words and Language- Can we truly communicate with ourselves and others?

I’ve been thinking a lot about words. Not any ones in particular. Just words, and what they mean, and what we mean when we use them, and how we use them to try and communicate our thoughts and feelings, to others and to ourselves.

My questions are not new ones. They’ve been asked for more than 2,000 years. We think we know what words mean. We speak to, with, and at one another and are under the impression that we have conveyed our intent, no, not just conveyed, but made our thoughts fully clear. As with colors, we believe our perception to be reality. Words, after all, have meanings, and we are speaking the same language. Only we’re not. Not just when we try to communicate with someone who actually speaks a different language, but even when we speak with someone who speaks the same language. We don’t though. The idea that our words mean something objective is just an illusion. Throw in symbolic language and things get even more complicated. Shake hands with another person after a conversation and you have a deal. Or you’ve at least come to understand each other clearly. Maybe you’re just saying goodbye.

Think too much about this and it gets depressing. We each speak our own language, acquired and formed through personal experience. It is just another way that we differ. One more way that, on some level, we are alone, never able to truly and fully connect with another. Maybe it’s even worse than that. Can words express to ourselves what we feel inside, what we experience as we move through this world? Perhaps we express ourselves most truly when our emotions pour out; our tears, laughter, or primal screams expressing that which is most real about ourselves.

Yet we dare not, can not, must not let these thoughts paralyze us. We use words as a way of reaching out, a means of connection, in the hope that, somehow, we might, imperfectly, connect to another, and to ourselves. Even as we know we can not fully be successful, we forge forward, creating a bridge, however temporal it might be, from our deepest inexpressible experiences, to the world around us. In so doing we express the hope and prayer that our words not fail us, at least this one time.

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