To Be Human is to Communicate Peacefully

As I listen to the words being exchanged between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) and the comments and reactions they inspire from different people, I cannot help but notice how we as a people have been conditioned to use the language of war.

Language is very important. Applied peace linguist professor Francisco Gomes de Matos defines language as “a mental marvel used for meaning-making.” He said that language is used to communicate and learning to communicate is an inherent part of our being and becoming human. He argued that much of education has to do with “how to communicate effectively or successfully.”

So if communication makes us human, then all of us should strive to communicate in a humanizing way, that is, inspired by the ideals of dignity, human rights, justice, equality, cooperation, goodness, kindness, mutual understanding, and peace.

There is language for war and language for peace. Language is not neutral as it shapes perception and behavior. It can be used to highlight differences and incite violence or it can be used to celebrate diversity and promote peace.

In a paper written by William C. Gay of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte entitled “The Language of War and Peace,”  he explained the power of language to influence people’s thinking and behavior.

He wrote: “Because the vocabulary of a language provides charged terms, it serves as a means of interpretation. Individuals think about their world in the terms provided by their language. As a result of socialization individuals have a predisposition to select those terms which coincide with the existing values in their societies.”

He cited the difference between referring to armed troops as “freedom fighters” and as “guerrilla terrorists.”  Another example is  government referring to a military campaign as a “just war” while critics will counter that it is “just another war.”

He added that behavior is closely connected with the way language shapes consciousness. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, the right of bestowing names is a fundamental expression of political power. So “linguistic violence” or using words that can hurt or harm individuals can exacerbate divisions in society, exclude groups of people, and further oppress marginalized groups.

If we are serious about peace, we must learn how to communicate peacefully. Building peace requires the use of language of inclusion and nonviolence.

According to Gay, the language of peace is democratic rather than authoritarian, dialogical rather than monological, receptive rather than aggressive, meditative rather than calculative.

Professor Gomes de Matos has creative techniques for communicating peacefully, which I really like so I am sharing here:

Don’t denigrate; appreciate.

Don’t detract; attract.

Don’t suspect; respect.

Don’t manipulate; cooperate.

Don’t discard; regard.

Don’t offend; commend.

Don’t indoctrinate; illuminate.

Don’t impose; propose.

Don’t mortify; dignify.

Don’t humiliate; humanize.

Don’t resist; assist.

Don’t verbally attack; question.

I believe humans are meant to promote peace rather than war. Love is our default mode. It is hate that is learned so therefore it can be unlearned. So to be truly human is to communicate peacefully.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, August 11, 2016