"If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." ~George Orwell
We are all trained from birth to support the patriarchal system that limits human expression, establishes hierarchies over us, and oppresses. One of the key elements of this training is language. The language of patriarchy could be called "violent communication," since it trains us to enjoy violence, and supports a social structure that violates the humanity and the rights of individuals. However, it is called only "English," or "Spanish," or "Chinese" – it is the default language of our culture, and so it hides in plain sight, invisibly corrupting our thought.
Let me offer some examples:
Patriarchal language (violent communication, or VC) encourages the abdication of personal responsibility. It is the language of blame. "You hurt me." "You make me angry." "You scare me." "You make me happy." "You broke my heart." It is always the other person who is responsible for the way we feel. But look deeper. What is the real reason we feel the way we do?
VC supports hierarchy. It is laden with "have to's" that limit individual autonomy. This especially is used against children, to train them to blind obedience to authority and to suppress their own needs. "You have to go to school." "You have to do the dishes." "You must pay taxes." "I have to pick up the kids after school." The effect of this ubiquitous term is to reduce our autonomy, to abdicate responsibility, and to disguise the choices we make as imperative demands.
VC trains us to devalue our own needs, and also the needs of others. It trains us to believe that we are by nature evil. It trains us to suppress our emotions until we can't even recognize them.
VC is the language of judgment. It says, "You are bad." "He is good." It "otherizes" people, dividing the common human family into "us and them." "They (blacks, women, queers, Muslims, infidels, whatever) are (animalistic, weak, perverted, evil, whatever); we (Christians, whites, men, Muslims, whatever) are (good, strong, civilized, blah, blah). By this means, the "other" becomes less than human, and violence against them is not only justified, it is encouraged.
VC trains us to enjoy and think in terms of violence. "The war on drugs." "The war on poverty." "My team smashed your team." "If thy brother … saying, Let us go and serve other gods, … thou shalt surely kill him." "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, … they shall surely be put to death."
Fortunately, we don't have to speak the language of patriarchy. We have a choice. But in order to avail ourselves of that choice, we have to know what it is. We must learn the language of nonviolence – compassionate communication (CC), or nonviolent communication (NVC).
Let's look a little closer at the effects of VC. What is the real reason we feel the way we do? Isn't it because we have universal human needs that are met or unmet? I feel scared not because you are brandishing a baseball bat ready to kill me because I'm queer, but because my need for safety isn't met. I feel happy when I share a nice chat and meal with a friend not because she makes me happy, but because my need for connection is met.
Compassionate communication is the antidote to the violent communication of the patriarchy. With NVC, the goal is not to establish or maintain hierarchy through domination or appeasement, but to bring about a quality of connection that enables everyone's needs to be met. NVC assumes that our natures are compassionate, and that we all share the same basic human needs, and that we choose our behavior in an effort to meet those needs.
NVC strikes at the very heart of patriarchy. It uproots the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil." It says, "Your needs matter, just as much as mine." "How you feel is important." It puts everyone on an equal basis, and encourages everyone to take full responsibility for their choices.
If I assume you are by nature compassionate, and share my same needs, how can I justify violence against you? How can hierarchy be maintained when I recognize that your needs are as valid as mine, and I start seeking strategies that meet both your needs and mine?
I'm not as fluent in NVC as I'd like. I was raised in this violent, patriarchal culture, and took in the language of violence with my mother's milk, even in a religion that is based on Love. But I'm learning, and practicing it more and more, on my children, on my opponents, on my job, and even with my own brother. Recently I stopped in the middle of one of our endless political arguments, and simply gave him empathy. Peace, and connection, was restored.
For those of us dedicated to destroying the patriarchy, there is no tool more powerful than language. We can use it to expose the cruel oppression of that corrupt system, erode the sand from under its weak foundation, and bring it down.