Social Permaculture: Language and its barriers to understanding

by Matilde Magro

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We, humans, invented language to name things to understand them by expanding on their meaning, but my proposal is that right now it hinders our understanding of things more than it helps. Particularly language that it’s either too formal or too loose in terms of meaning and understanding. I mean, the English language alone is so confusing that the only real way to make sense of it was if everyone could understand it to not have so many misunderstandings. “I mean no harm”, in Portuguese it literally means “I significate no harm”. It’s interesting that the way we all translate communication, even in our native languages, begins to be like a guessing game of what the other truly means.

In the realms of the Social Sciences, “othering” is not a bad thing that distances us from others, but as a thing that makes us recognize and accept difference. “Othering” means to empathize with differences to the point of understanding and compassion reacting. Not to the point of complete cultural relativism, but as a tool to minimize to extinction ethnocentrism. It’s really interesting, when studying sociology or anthropology, that when we speak of the other, we speak with the utmost respect for all the other represents, because it surely has its cultural reasons, and it’s validating of another’s intelligence to follow their particular cultural path and understand what it means to be them, regarding cultural, national, tribal, and even familiar identity.

The issue then resides and has been residing, in passing it over to the layperson how to connect with others in a deeper understanding way. How can we move over from disconnection and misunderstandings, judgments and misjudgment, to compassion and respect, not neglecting what causes them harm. Imagine Facebook, if everyone was kind enough to listen to each other and have honest, compassionate, and kind discussions? Quite a dream.

I often waltz along the street and realize more and more often, that the way we perceive others is nothing but a mirage of the understanding we have of them. And this is fairly obvious, but even the people we’ve known all our lives and have shared most moments with, this happens. The most compassionate thing we can do for ourselves is to rest in the unknown and understand others have their reasons to act the way they do, even if it’s a way we deem completely abhorrent. We don’t need to be active participants in it, we don’t even need to acknowledge them in our lives, but understanding goes a long way in building the bridge between what is said and what is real.

Let’s see some examples. “I believe in x y or z”, which means we attribute the significance of validity to things we don’t fully understand to give some meaning to the knowledge we feel we have. Confused? So, we think we understand something because we read a lot about it, and we know we have the intelligence to understand a certain subject, life takes us in a direction of understanding things in ways that can be confusing, and previous knowledge, wrong or right, leads us to other understandings, and we waltz along sometimes for decades, until something or someone proves us wrong. One thing I’ve learned in my life is that there is a balance between external confirmation and what we deeply truly know. And that “know” comes from observation, direct testing, and communication with ourselves, life, nature, things, and knowledge itself. I realize this is incredibly deep thinking, but let’s go on and try to understand what I’m trying to put into words.

Our knowledge at this point in history comes from something called culture. Culture is built by the entirety of the population who builds it, meaning, in the immediate culture we have the idiotic uncle who believes in the far right, and the loving grandma who doesn’t care about politics but makes the most incredible cookies, the selfie cousin and even those who read a lot and know a lot and we can have discussions about things. But, in all honesty, we then go home after a family dinner and absorb all the information we received during the get-together, and adapt it to our own understanding and previously acquired knowledge. Our minds are like little bubbles of self-inflated thought patterns that are made to help us feel adequate, sane, and connected to our inherent and immediate culture. Then we need to breathe a bit out of it all, and go meet with friends, we have discussions full of misunderstandings — ever had that moment that 10 years later you finally understand what the other meant? — so, then, we go home and organize our thoughts to meet our expectations of ourselves as the personas we want and like to be, and to absorb all the information with our perceived notions of reality and previously acquired, wrong or right, information and knowledge.

All of this because we share one little thing in common that helps both to pass down information, as well to absorb it, as well to rationalize it into our own previously held beliefs: Language.

So then, we also build ideas about what others meant, meaning what they signify for us, and what they wanted to say with the wording they used. Most of the time, we build upon their realizations and build our own understanding of things, which helps in turn to makes us like or dislike someone, and to go on with a new type of acquired thought process.

The wording of the phrase: “I get you”, almost seems predatory. We actually want to predate that knowledge and acquire it, no wonder we are always fussing along thinking we are the greatest and no one can truly understand us, thank Heavens. “I really love myself because I uniquely understand things and others will never reach my level”, even if you’re down in the dumps of understanding reality. This is the ultimate realization and self-fulfillment nowadays, and what drives all those obnoxious TikToks filled with horrible music and people parading nonsense. Sorry for the momentaneous blargh.

Actually, conspiracy theories live off this exact thing. Your understanding of the word “control” and “mind-control” will have different connotations than someone who believes tinfoil will protect you from alien abduction. I’m not even kidding, it’s true.

I was speaking with someone with schizophrenia who decided to heal himself without medication simply by dealing with himself. I think he did it, at least the last time we talked he seemed saner than a lot of people that reach government and academic positions. If that’s even comparison criteria anymore. The deeper understanding he had was that the whole thing was a constant projection of deep fears, the more he circled the fears, the more fast judgments he made about things in a reactive, nonsensical way, the more prone he was to instability, the more it circled. The acceptance of nonsense comes a lot from a misunderstanding of words, meanings, and intentions. If you think someone who spreads conspiracy theories’ intentions are not that harmful is quite possible you will question the validity of what they are saying. If you’re sane enough, or if you learn to think adequately about things, you might reach conclusions that can help the other person, if not, you might go down some deep rabbit hole and believe what they believe.

Despite popular notions of schizophrenia, it’s an umbrella term that basically means psychosis + deep depression + a myriad of other symptoms from other disorders. It’s not a clear diagnosis as conjunctivitis for example. An umbrella term helps psychiatrists understand what type of treatment the person who suffers from these issues need. Unfortunately for a lot of people, there is still a lot of misconceptions that talk therapy or other types of therapies not related to medication can help with this type of pathology. Refer to the articles I wrote about the mental health revolution that needs to take place. Most people with one episode of psychosis are diagnosed with schizophrenia, but most people also heal from it and the diagnosis is removed. Psychosis is the main vehicle, as long as a person believes in things that are not proven to be true, and has deviant behaviors because of it, the diagnosis will maintain. So the first thing that happens in a good psychosis treatment is relearning how to process thinking — not exactly learning how to think, but how to process knowledge and information in a way that is viable for sanity. It’s a very difficult process, but absolutely helpful. Medication helps stabilize the body chemicals, and the whole of other types of psychotherapies help to relearn how to adjust to the cultural normative. This is not a bad thing, because we have a very engrained cultural identity, which is good to maintain and cherish, and do our own work to normalize the right things.

A lot of what we see in the West and East about the reaction to perceived insanity comes from cultural norms. If our previously held knowledge is not congruent with what the other person says and does, it might be seen as wrong. When the person actively harms themselves and is in a state of decompensation, meaning, sick, the person needs help. A lot of countries, in fact, most western countries, seem to be very adamant in making sure everyone is screened correctly before they are treated. To understand if it’s simply a misunderstanding of the brain, or if the person needs hospitalized treatment and medication to support getting better. At the same time, the way our culture deals with what it’s perceived as wrong is incredibly aggressive and antagonistic — see racism, ethnocentrism, and a lot of other isms — so it’s really impressive how people still recover from these types of things. If you’re not well mentally, you’re considered an obstacle to the higher purpose of your culture, which is perfection according to previously held notions of what perfection even is… Insanity equals “the farthest away of perfect”.

In another hand, in tribal settings, for example, it’s highly unlikely for a person to reach this type of level of decompensation, of sickness, because the person is cared for, supported into understanding what is real and not, and valued by its difference. Things are not dealt with medication, but dancing, love, community, and respect over difference, to find a role in which this person’s experiences fit with the collective. Where does the healing rest? Communication, right wording, sense of community, and kindness.

Exercise in behavioral reaction: someone says “I’m positive there’s a CIA van in front of my house and they are going to try to kill me”, and you know it’s a lie. What do you do? Sending them to a tribe is not going to help at this point. It might, but it’s very likely the person will resent their own culture for not taking care of them. Most likely you thought of asking some higher professional mental health hierarchy for help — immediately, even if you forgot the above and even if you agreed to it, that’s the reaction. That’s why this conversation is important, it’s highly unlikely for us to think in trying to support and understand where the idea that person has comes from, and actually helping them feel belonging and not chased by the CIA. But, we have this because a lot of us know that it is very difficult to talk to someone who believes this type of thing — simply, the mental health teams know the tools to do it and we weren’t taught those tools. It’s not really about being professional, is having compassion and understanding. It’s quite the time to start to learn these tools, all of us. Even for our own well-being.

So, cultural convergence or divergence comes from our understandings of truth and lies. But, also, there is cultural normative data that implies truth but it’s a manipulation of facts. That’s the world we live in today. How can we respond appropriately to this without spreading nonsense? By accurately passing down information with the correct wording so there are a few misunderstandings as possible.

One cultural norm the West has is to constantly validate previously held knowledge with current knowledge. For example, the notion of a blue sky. Scientifically speaking it’s a whole different story, but to make it easier for our understanding of the sky we simply say it’s blue. Even though it’s not a fact.

The way we say “nature” as an abstract concept, separates our natural selves from the concept of the meaning we attribute to nature. Mostly this comes out of a feeling of unworthiness, but to that, it’s own article.

It’s a whole different and very insanity-inducing rabbit hole to go down the path of trying to understand all the different blue skies of this communication world, trust me. But one thing we can and do start to understand is how our languages continually separate us from the truth to accommodate our ignorance. For example, and I question myself a lot regarding this subject. What if everyone sees blue differently, and there is only external confirmation of the name of the color we identify what we perceive as blue with?

Going deeper into this, the identifications to words and our perceived meanings of words and sentences, make up our thought patterns. But if everyone sees blue differently, we have really no way of knowing. It’s a supposition, not meant to be factual, just a chain-thought to question how deeply ignorant about all of this we all truly are.

When I say love, you might think of a whole different set of concepts than the meaning of my word love. When I say peace, someone might think of war to achieve it, others think of nature, others think of denuclearizing the countries of the world, and so forth, the word peace has all of these connotations and intentions behind it. Sometimes it just means a few moments of rest and silence in a comfortable bed, other times it means laying on the chest of a loved one, and so forth.

So when we talk to each other, we have different ideas about the words we are speaking. Someone who says “I fought hard to get here” might mean they actually had fistfights, or it might mean they suffered a lot emotionally, or it might mean they had to climb the corporate ladder, or it might mean some other different thing. Our suppositions and understandings may actually not be congruent to reality at all. Actually, very rarely they are. We suppose a lot!

To explain ethnocentrism is a supposition, think about a country you inherently dislike. And now think of why. And think where you got that information from. And now question if those aren’t assumptions. Now travel to that place and take your own conclusions.

Like a lot of us, you probably distrust government, yet you fight hard for democracy. Because democracy is an idea about the people having a valid voice in how a country is managed. Now think about how your country is managed and think about the voice you actually have. The supposition that you have none, is wrong. And the supposition that you have some, is wrong too. It’s sometimes difficult to understand how it works, but the actual voice is in the actions you do and the environments you’re in, and how you help shape the culture of the country you reside in. But in fact, you aren’t making laws or dealing governmentally or institutionally with the pandemic, in that sense reality-speaking, you are individually muted. You’re just washing hands, using a mask, and trying to deal with others as little as possible, maybe singing on your window and helping neighbors as you can. In hindsight to how this pandemic worked so far, that’s amazing. It’s actually what will save us all. Democracy wins, right?

This shows that the way we perceive things like “power” is very relative. And individual power over one’s self is highly relative too. For example, you did not choose to have a social security number attached to your sense of identity, but in fact, it’s really helpful if you live in a place with free health care. But if I say your security number is your identity, you’ll be very angry with me. Really speaking about the reality of things, the only thing that distinguishes you from your next-door neighbor to the person in Social Security offices that deals with issues relating to you, you are that number. Obviously, the person meeting you will not see that, but they will judge you according to the number assigned to you, whether you deserve a co-pay for something or not, in some countries for example. So identity gains a whole different meaning. It’s not the Social Security official’s fault, it’s not mine either for telling you this, and it’s not yours. It’s no one. But in fact, for someone, you’re simply a number. Now, for your father, you’re not daughter number two. You are a person, a loved and esteemed person in his life. Or not, I don’t know your story.

And so forth.

The attribution of the meaning of our sense of identity crumbles when we start really noticing what others truly think about us. That’s why most of us say we don’t care. But it’s not true.

The thing is, we know ourselves and also have ideas about ourselves. And we can feel we are the best people out there, but maybe we are not perceived that way. “And that is fine!” Really? Let’s see. If you shout and hit someone, you are not being a good person at that moment. If the person knows you and forgives you, they probably know you’re a good person. But if the person doesn’t know you and will not see you again, you’ll be the person that shouted and hit them and messed with their physical integrity. But if it was self-defense or a provoked altercation, maybe that’s not such a wrong reaction at the moment, just the one you could have. That’s why the best route is always kindness, even in the face of cruel words and misunderstandings, and judgments. Because the way we perceive ourselves will be guilt-free and the other person will know we chose the path of kindness for a reason. But kindness does not mean relinquishing your own sense of self-worth, and your own sense of mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual integrity…

But if you hit someone while you say you love them, what does that truly say? For some, that you may love them, but you don’t have the know-how. For others, that you don’t love them. For others, that you are abusive. And for others, that you need anger management treatment before carrying on having relationships with other people. And you might actually love them, it’s in their actions and reactions you’ll know. And then there are some who just take advantage of your goodwill and that’s actually the reason why you got angry in the first place… so many reasons, intentions, and meanings to what happens!

The same goes for our understanding of words. A person telling you a story might be lying about details. If the story is good and if you like the person, you don’t mind, and you may believe the whole story or not. You may even find out that the story is not actually all true, but forgive the person for it. But if the story is somewhat “out there” and you don’t like the person, you might think a whole different set of ideas about the other person, even if they don’t deserve it. And you may start telling others they lied. The only thing the other person actually wanted was validation of existence, like so many of us. Why were you so upset about it?

If you dislike someone and are somewhat mean to them, you might really make a lot of harm just by saying the wrong thing. You might even feel they deserve it at the moment, and hang on to that, but it might not be true. Even happens when we like people, think about that for a moment.

If we spread knowledge with this type of awareness of how our words may mean different things to people, and how our thoughtless actions might hurt others maybe for a long time, and how the meaning we attribute to the knowledge we have about things like society, others, communication, and so forth, may not be the best relationship we could have with what life is and how life responds to us, maybe things could be a lot different, and we’d have a much kinder world.

And let’s say, a lot of what I wanted to say about this subject is left unsaid. It’s up to you to fill your own gaps according to your own preconceived knowledge and data and information about things.

So, reading this you may have read things and attributed meaning to them. You didn’t take the whole thing literally, because you do question things and that’s wonderful. That’s what intelligence is all about. Imagine taking everything so literally, it would be insane. But if you dismissed this entire thing for preconceived judgments or previously held information you have, you might want to analyze why internally. If it’s a question of self-inflation, because no one understands this better than you, then you may almost certainly be wrong.

The resting in the “I don’t know” is how we find out about things, and why we question reality and why we gather information to share amongst ourselves with the only tool we have: language.

The notions of kinship in our languages have become really distorted, that’s why things like “bro”, “you’re my spirit animal” and so forth, came to be. Because we need expressions to explain things we couldn’t otherwise.

It’s really beautiful how we communicate with others because it’s how we learn to live. Information and knowledge-sharing shape the wholeness of lives.

I remember trying to make peace with a friend and having the barrier of not being able to communicate effectively my side of things. And I’ve done that to others as well. That’s why I started questioning this, because from there on out the way I began analyzing language and the things we understand became really important for me. For example, when the black community calls someone a white supremacist, they are not meaning every time to say they belong to the KKK, they are saying that in our actions and behaviors we are adhering to the idea of a type of supremacy of the caucasian race in our shared culture. Would there be a better way of saying this? Yes, and there are people saying it the right way. They are speaking of white privilege and other things, but it takes some digging to understand how to take that veil off, we need to do that work. But maybe the choice of words is not the best for everyone, and there is communication needed to solve that. It does not mean every person in the black community agrees with each other, and it also does not mean you are a bad person because you have certain behaviors and notions. It’s not relinquishing integrity, but gaining more of it through understanding. I feel offended with being associated with white supremacy because I’ve been fighting it all my life, sometimes to the point of relinquishing my own wellbeing. To be included solely because of my skin tone being white-ish, or according to certain Americans, Latina or olive-skinned… (green?)…feels ridiculous, but that’s also a point of understanding for me, and what makes me try to understand what’s going on with the racism of this world. Simply, we attach notions and previously held beliefs about things and ourselves and create separatism. But if we all, whatever type of green we have in our skins, do this work of understanding our language barriers, the world can be very different. And if someone says you’re dumb, they do not mean you’re not intelligent as a whole, they are simply saying you’re not understanding things the way they perceive is the right way. Their way may be the right way, or your way may be the right way, you’ll both certainly find external validation or not for it.

It baffles me all of this, because it’s in our language to dismiss something as intelligent and valid as the intelligence of life, of the planet, of nature, simply because we have previously held notions of superiority. It’s quite interesting that the culprit of the revolution lies in the agrarian community because that’s also where it all started when we started having control over what grows and what doesn’t when hunters began rationing and controlling the animal population, and so forth.

It’s up to us, in permaculture fields or biodynamic or whatever is the field of the land you work on, to teach these things and for us to make our own work of disentanglement of notions, preconceived ideas that may not be correct, especially about others, what comprises the system we’re in, and what’s our real role in it. It’s all in the way we all communicate with each other.

We need to start looking at restoration and healing in ourselves as a collective. Invent our own languages, why not? We need lingo that speaks to our collective truths, and words of kindness and compassion once and for all.

Indigenous cultures are trying to teach us this, are we learning?

Have a beautiful early spring day! Let us speak kindness.

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