By Abel Merawi
August 13, 2019 (Ezega.com) -- Human civilization flourished as settlements took hold, when animal husbandry and agriculture became the primary ways of life. This became possible with the development of human language. Without it, human civilization would not have been possible. Language is essential to the formation of society, because society exists and continues to exist through communications. The more developed animals such as apes, which are considered our closest relatives, didn’t evolve for lack of more expressive languages. Even if it is a distinctively human quality, the way we use it makes a big difference in how we live and thrive.
Maya Angelou remarked words are things. They start as thoughts, grow into action, proceed to becoming our belongings, and finally become us. This is the proper way of understanding of the meaning of language. Through words we create the world. It is for this vital reason that we should take caution with our utterances.
It is through words that worlds are built or destroyed. It is how society is molded and fashioned for better or worse. Thus, we should be careful of what we utter or speak. We should be watchful of how it affects us and how it portrays us in the eyes of others. Words have the power to diminish or even outcast the person we speak of when we use it in a stereotypical and pejorative manner. However, when used with kindness, love, compassion or any form of empathy, words can have a tremendous effect on us, fostering humanity between us and creating a wonderful world in which we live.
Now consider the following two ways of depicting human beings, and examine the effect it has on the way we perceive the world and fellow human beings.
• How wonderful humanity is! Reasonable and humble, utterly compassionate and sympathetic to all species. The smile, the helping hand, and the noble cause extended to the destitute and the vulnerable are invaluable. We can’t help letting out our tears upon seeing people risking their lives to save others or fight for a righteous cause. This is testament to the goodness residing in all of us, humanity!
• Whence in the face of the earth can we find a more gruesome and hideous creatures than human beings. Crooked by nature, who use the power of reason for destruction. The monster of all monsters, who has managed to wipe out entire races, civilizations and species. A loathsome race that puts me to shame every time I realize my membership in it.
I think the above two depictions of human beings can, to some extent, show the power of words. Speaking the virtues of human beings brightens our attitude and helps us do noble things to others. The dark portrayal of human beings can bring out the worst in all of us, making us sources of trouble and misery to others. This should serve as a reminder that words are powerful.
The next step is to diagnose the content of our utterances. Although it is truly risky to generalize and put individuals in a collective label, there is a sectorial, societal, national, continental or global narrative that characterizes a certain generation. In my understanding, the current global narrative is dominated by group mentality and, consequently, it is a narrative of hatred and perverted competition.
We see leaders of nations rise to power not despite but because of their bigotry. Promising a great nation at the expense of others has become a slogan for winning the ballots. Such group mentality, which was once despised and considered as the primary cause of fascism and Nazism, is now mainstream and on the rise. The promise of Donald Trump, to make America great again by marginalizing sects and minorities, is just one example of such attitude.
Group or sectorial mentality is depicted in a dialect of hostility towards others, a language that teaches hate and violence as the tools to deliver the promise of the bigot. This malicious global narrative is like an outbreak of a deadly disease that aims to bring out the brute and miscreant in all of us and destroy all aspects of civilized life. When a country directs its focus on one ethnic group or the other, it neglects the bigger picture.
In Ethiopia’s case, the problem may have started a bit earlier than others, although in a mild way initially. It has picked up steam since then, after years of slow, but unmistakable drift to one’s own group or enclave. When we focus on our ethnic and religious creed, we forget the holistic identity we all share as Ethiopians. The distinct group identity exists only because Ethiopia exists. Otherwise, it is like putting the cart before the horse. Yet words alone did the trick! Today, all discussions focus on the group, the grievances of each group, forgetting that it is only possible to even have a dialogue because Ethiopia exists.
This plague has managed to enter all aspects of our lives. It is not only world leaders, but also entire communities, individually and collectively, who are displaying hatred and the language of discrimination: us vs them. Hate and envy dictates the relationship amongst neighbors, between different generations (young vs. old), between tribes, regions, nationalities and all the rest, and even within a household - as long as we can create a faction within. And they all have a thing in common: greed and ignorance. The factionalist cannot love one group over the other. It is just a shortcut to power and privilege – undeservedly. It is all about self: me, me, me.
Language has taken a swift turn for the worse. It is time that we all take caution of how we conduct ourselves with everyone, be it a friend, foe or a stranger. Try to imagine the world we are handing over to our children – a world of hatred. We cannot expect the next generation to be better when all we have given them is division and all we have thought them is hate. We can only get what we give. Hatred breeds violence.
We should put this dangerous inclination to a halt. Words can build or destroy worlds. The venomous words of evil leaders such as Adolf Hitler have brought havoc to the world, one that took decades to recover from. Entire generations lost their rights to live in peace and happiness. Other examples abound, large and small, some in our backyard. Those who stir differences and sow hatred among us are not doing it for the benefit of the common good, but themselves.
The words of great leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., on the other hand, have shaped the world for the better. Let us use words for the good of people everywhere. We will all be better for it.