It’s Not Just You: Decolonizing Language

Naomi Joy Smith
Mar 3 · 7 min read

Choosing to recognize and replace language control mechanisms in our own speech, and our daily environments.

“As was his language so was his life.”

I found out that I suffer a trauma — from an indirect action
taken for me and over me, years before I was born.
I am inherently creative, emotional and magical.
I use language to teleport, to design, to connect, to engage.
Yet, at times, I find myself pushing others away through my language.
And I find that I’m affected just the same; with nobody to blame
for the suppression of my voice
the internal enforcement of shame;
the difficulty of speaking my vulnerable visions into being.

For the last 2 years, I have traveled and lived in countries where I don’t speak the default tongue.
I noticed how I would feel when I’m repeatedly overcoming language barriers. Drained, estranged, unintellectual, disadvantaged.

What I’ve come to notice recently, is that this doesn’t only happen outside of a fluency for English; I’ve also noticed that a feeling of alienation arises within the language, in how it’s used to describe a version of reality.
There are speech acts, being used in a way which stifles the life inside of me, while quietly opening doors toward culturally-endorsed successes.
I’ve discovered that I can be a perpetrator of this language.

It often happens when ‘serious matters’ are discussed; conversations with legally binding implications.
Bureaucratic, boardroom or intellectual speech.
Applying for a house. Applying for funding. Applying for an education.

Like a fence around all the basic needs which each of us — farmers, healers, entertainers, grandmothers, innovators — need, to fulfill our life’s purpose.

What makes this colonial?

The white man has historically dominated over global society for millennia.
Not just any white man, but the archetypal white man, which is helpful to understand as we seek to make sense of language’s influence.
It is a cultural pattern which has prioritized the access to opportunities, for some — predominantly white men — to find self-actualization, while others (including some white men, but certainly affecting women and non-white ethnic groups at a greater rate) have endured reduction in life quality, recognition, respect, and opportunity.

Anywhere connected with success and high achievement now encodes the best and the worst of white male achievement deeply into that hardest of all stains to remove; language.

Language continues to enforce a colonial-era authority over other forms of intelligence.

Unknown source

I have added this image above to demonstrate the stupidity of giving authority to patriarchal values, in contrast with the intelligence of ecology.

How we use language will reinforce a particular worldview, encoding certain values and rewarding those who demonstrate these.
The worldview connected to the patriarchy is reductionist.
Left unbalanced, this exhibits the worst in rationality; and the toxicity of the masculine archetype. It becomes exploitative, cunning, and tragically unjust.

These speech acts reward those who make skilled use of them.
While some seem harmless in their jargoned obfuscation,
they share the power of a spell, in asserting authority and ownership
in silently or abruptly violent ways.

There are wonderful trainings on Non-Violent Communication, developed by Marshall Rosenberg, which allow us to observe and release these control patterns when they appear in our automatic behaviour, as they very commonly do- this way of speaking has bred a kind of infestation, affecting a large deal of human culture.

Our mindset has a radical influence over our experience of life, ourselves and our environment; and particularly over each other.

So, fuck the patriarchy?

Short answer: yes.
Long answer: It’s never that simple.
I‘m not here to complain or claim victimhood, and I want to make clear that this is a worldview which has seen a good deal of success to our common advantage — alongside (and often as a result of) the slavery, genocide and systematic oppression.
Without something to replace the current social infrastructure, ‘fuck the patriarchy’ on its own could lead to enormous destruction.
It’s a bittersweet inheritance to “take the good with the bad”, yet for all the good that it has brought us, this worldview continues to miss the mark.

An economic mindset to consider how much good has come at the expense of how much bad

If you are ready to fuck the patriarchy, may I suggest a gentle fuck, fertile with the imaginative power of creation? Decolonizing our own use of language is a powerful ground upon which we can build a fairer future.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Control by coercion, power-over (rather than power-with or power-to), ownership by force, and tunnelvision-rationality, which optimizes for the destination, ignoring the beauty of the journey.
That is my experience of the hyper-masculine, untethered to its balancing component, the yin energy.

Without space for the emotional to balance the logical, without the holy harmony held between the hemispheres, this language can oppress the creative force we’re born into. It can inflict great trauma.

Source: Rupa Marya from her talk at Bioneers 2018

Patriarchal language makes assumptions.
Patriarchal language casts judgement.
Patriarchal language asserts itself as inherently superior.
Patriarchal language is the language which normalizes destruction in the pursuit of short-term gain.
It is the cause of many problems, to which it offers no solution.

As someone whose only fluent tongue is English, I can only speak to a narrow observation into the perceived effects of such language.

That being said, by drawing attention to this observation, there’s a chance you find yourself resonating with much of this perspective, too.

What I’ve noticed is that I’m more likely to reflex into this speech when I feel intimidated, inferior, or anxious. It is a fear-based control mechanism.

In situations where I am made to compete, where I doubt my self abilities and feel a need to prove my worth; these are when my control patterns are triggered into a response of patriarchal language. When looking at this beast for what it is, I realize that reenacting this pattern out of my own fears only perpetuates the harm which it has, and continues to, cause.

Because English is so commonly learned by speakers of other languages for the pure purpose of business meetings or educational opportunities, the ability to wield this flaccid monotone in overly-confident booms of dry, tired rust tends to appeal to anyone looking to bootstrap their way into more fortune, rank and privilege in the crumbling world of colonial power thirst.

Without going on for too long discussing the life-draining qualities of this turn of speech, I’d like to turn the direction of this article now to sharing some power-shifting phrases which I hope could lighten up our conversations — personally, professionally and productively — not only for myself, but for anybody stuck behind the mask of this learned lingua of vapid flout.

Transformational language

What can I do?

This is an article written in soliloquy. My opinion is being expressed through a format which quite naturally reiterates the structure of single minded ownership. It’s inherently limiting, in that way.

I am not the authority over you, even if I’ve made any sort of compelling case about colonial language. I will resist inserting rules or solutions in this space.

I cannot tell you what to do, but I can share what I want to do; right now, I want to extend an invitation to you.

I invite you to sense into your experience of language, words, expressions or tones of voice which trigger anxiety in you.

What comes alive? What is it like? Is there a feeling, a smell, a colour? Does it remind you of an animal? What is the emotional response?

If you accepted my invitation, you might notice that this response is not grounded in a life threatening situation. Despite everything you feel right now, you are still calm and comfortable enough to be reading some shapes on a screen. Imagining. Listening. Connecting.

There is always a choice.

Maybe you will choose to notice patriarchal speech acts. Maybe you will choose to try new language systems. Maybe you will grow your sensitivity. Maybe you will become closer to your own truth rather than complying with others' ideas. Maybe you will practice letting others hold opposing ideas without reacting in defence. There are endless things to try — if something energizes you, I welcome you to share it with me.

By allowing another person to hold their own version of reality, I notice (and am delighted by) what happens when I let the world be larger than one simple, narrow sphere of possibility.

I hypothesize that this worldview holds a key to collective intelligence.

Our species is a complex hivemind of an organism, and diversity of opinion is a healthy way to test many evolutionary strategies simultaneously.
At this point in humanity’s story, it’s my belief that we have more need for abundant creativity than ever before.

I believe that developing an awareness of language will help us to shape the ways we affect and influence those around us— to encourage less control-oriented speech, and to renounce opinions, values and beliefs which inhibit quality life.

Language is a commons which operates as the foundation of the culture we live in. What culture do you choose to bring into our shared tomorrow?

Naomi Joy Smith is a New Zealand-born nomad deeply researching complex living systems through the lens of social permaculture, in areas such as authentic connection, self development, invisible structures, organisational management, community building, movement weaving and kundalini yoga.

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Naomi Joy Smith

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Casually researching wisdom & generosity. Aunty. Geek. I’m into weaving, tea, poetry, music, patterns & social evolution. What questions are living within you?

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