THE WAR AND PEACE OF LANGUAGE
I’ve written more than once about George Lakoff’s book, “The Political Mind” and the scientific information it reveals about how we think. As I’ve explained elsewhere, he argues the two basic components of the brain are the pursuit of self-interest and compassion (blog post: 9/22/11). Among the book’s final chapters, I came across a sentence that was simple and at the same time profound:
“…groups can function… and survive relative to other groups under conditions of scarce resources when members of the group do not compete with each other” (pg. 205, emphasis mine).
When I read that line a light switched on in my head. I have been writing and thinking a good deal about masculine and feminine worldviews — which really aren’t gender based but describe the emphasis placed on competing versus nurturing. Consider how, of those two views, phrases of competition dominate our language. Here are some common ones: may the best man win; top dog, king of the mountain; being on top of things; a battle for; a war against; best foot forward…. The list seems endless.
Perhaps we could create a kinder and more peaceful society simply by becoming aware of the metaphors we use. It’s not a thankless notion because, as Lakoff points out in a later chapter, language not only reflects our thoughts but also shapes them. Perhaps the first step toward world peace is to change the way we talk about our relationships. At least it’s a concrete beginning.