An Argument For All New Pronouns: “We are Ki. We are Kin.”
Calling anyone an “It” is disrespectful, but there are ways to include all our family of humanity.
On being and on pronouns
On Sundays, My husband and I love to listen to Krista Tippett’s On Being, on NPR radio. For years now, she has featured guests who always have cogent arguments as to why human beings need to expand our circle of compassion to include the whole creation.
On her program, Krista Tippet often revisits why we need new concepts and new words. Ki for a being, and Kin, for the plural of Ki, are suggested.
I think these new pronouns, Ki, and Kin, (for all of we, including trees, bees, and manatees) are perfect.
As an ecopsychologist, Tippett’s idea is old news to me, but I also realize the concept of total inclusion remains largely out of most people’s radar. Today, especially in these days of dark division, racial tension, culture wars, pandemic and climate crisis, it is all too easy to think of such topics as removed from our daily reality.
With California on fire (Again!) a burning pandemic of COVID, and a burning fervor for fear-mongering at the Republican National Convention this week, I can see why it’s so easy to get distracted. It is also far too easy to find scapegoats, such as the RNC, or even COVID, Racists, or whoever the television is screaming at right now.
But, as always, there is a danger is not seeing the many connections between racism, sexism, and anthropocentrism, and the state of our world.
Pronouns, to most people, remain a “non-problem.” But keeping inclusionary ideas in the closet does no favors for anyone. I think as a non-objectionable alternative to he/she, his/hers, and they/their, Ki/Kin is well worth considering.
Origins and Extractions
In the Anishinaabe and Potawatomi Nation, languages, among others of the Americas, Aki refers to the land. Beings of the land are known as “bimaadiziaki,”
Robin Wall Kimmerer, author, and a botanist guest on On Being, is one of the people who realizes that taking the last two letters of bimaadiziaki, or of aki, gives us “ki.”
Ki also borrows from the French and Spanish word meaning “who.” And from the whole of many an Asian culture which offers life energy as “chi.”
When we think about human beings as resources, the scourge of slavery and exploitation comes to mind. When we call a trans person an “it” we are using derogatory language to exploit in another way. When we ask a person “What are you?” or “Are you a she, or a he?” in an inelegant way to try to establish their ethnicity, race, or sex, we are not thinking holistically. With these words, we do not think inclusively.
However, switch that “their ethnicity” to “kin ethnicity”, and immediately, our kinship, our actual relationship to that person includes ki in our mental process.
This would be awkward at first. But when I was born, here are just one handful of words that had zero to no, to completely other meaning: Google, tweets, Amazon, grrrl, emoji, frenemy, and Muggle. There are hundreds more, yet somehow, we all adapt to these new words.
Arguments from the grammar police
The words “they and their” are useful. We obviously need them. But, here again, we see that even words can be a “them.” Living beings, and especially human living beings are not accurately equated with non-living things such as words, pieces of glass, or dem dry bones. “Dem” by the way is an old, and possibly racist, form of them when misappropriated, so them, and they, are easily manipulated into all sorts of tortured prose from dem being mistaken for them, damn, or those, to Dem being short for “dem demon democrats.”
There are no such issues with ki and kin.
Then there is the argument you will never stop hearing about “they and their” being plural. It does not matter that “Everyone must bring their pencil” refers to a singular person with a pencil. What matters is that people will intentionally argue against a word being both singular and plural.
But, with ki, there is no such problem. Ki is singular. Kin is plural. Easy peacy. Breezy — and not too cheesy.
Humanity is family
No one who has already embraced the restrictive binary language of he and she, or his and her, is going to be persuaded by arguments that stretch even beyond humanity to include the creation — which includes, all of us, all living beings on the planet — but we don’t need to persuade anyone to drop binary notions that restrict us.
Language, in changing over time, does this on its own.
There is a reason we don’t just mean “fish wife” when we say wife. Or that we don’t mean mistress when we say “Mrs.” As already mentioned, meanings change over time, and with them, connotations. The word housewife for example is not widely used by forward thinking people who see that a woman is more likely to consider herself married to a partner rather than a house.
These arguments then, are not for the narrow minded, but for the broad minded. (And by broad, no I don’t mean just the dames and skirts out there.)
Do the right thing. Or, the left thing?
Language is huge. It shapes our mental process. It shows our vulnerabilities. It displays our prejudices. That said, I think we should always respect what people ask for when it comes to pronouns and titles.
If someone asks for they/them pronouns, who are we, (or kin) to deny those people? Names and titles don’t always mean anything, in other cases. I am a doctor, for example, but I would likely be confused by anyone who addressed me as such, because in general people think of the word doctor meaning “medical physician”, not psychologist, or scientist. Also, we are all so much more than what people wish to call us.
In the end, just do the kind thing, which is the right thing. Or do what is left to do: the most just, and righteous, thing.
Inclusion, as an idea whose time has come, and as a necessity in our ever-evolving language is important. We must learn to say and do that which includes the greatest number of beings. Strength is in numbers, and of course, as nature demonstrates, strength is in diversity.
As Robin Kimmerer is fond of say, we need to expand, not restrict personhood. When a girl or woman has the full value of a man, or when a person of color, or trans person, has the full value and worth of every other person, we make progress.
Is it not ridicules that we have to argue about human worth itself at all in the 21st century? But, that inclusion of all humans is still up for debate, makes the rest of the imperiled world all the more imperiled. We must as a species get over ourselves.
Our belonging to the world seems irrefutable, yet someone, some of us don’t even see how we belong to one another. We humans are kin. Kimmerer takes it even further, realizing that inclusion must begin to encompass our biosphere and world, so that we begin to cherish and value, not just one another, but all living beings. Science supports this inclusion, as Kimmerer says, “And this denial of personhood to all other beings is increasingly being refuted by science itself.”
All aboard spaceship Earth
I realize that not everyone is going to be aboard the Kinship ship. That’s okay. But, still, I think the concepts behind it are well worth thinking about.
Think about all that makes you feel true connection. True belonging.
Most moments of true belonging happen when we are among people who love us, but in settings that support life itself. Exploitation and using others as scapegoats, or as objects, negates our belonging. Hate is easy. Love is hard. We who wish to hold one another in our hearts have to at least consider holding the rest of the whole creation in our family of being.
You don’t have to start calling your favorite tree ki, nor do you even have to change whatever pronouns you are comfortable with, but you do have to open your mind to how words work, and what they say about us.
It’s yet another perspective on our many paths to finding one another.