I believe that humans are born to live in permanent peace.
For one of my graduate school assignments, I searched textbooks for gender-biased language. That study helped me understand that as a teacher, my responsibilities include guiding my students to learn new vocabulary so they can harness language’s power to bring about goals of social justice.
At about the same time, I heard a friend use the saying, “Feed two birds with one ear of corn” instead of “Kill two birds with one stone.” She told me she was trying to remove violent words from her vocabulary. After her comment opened my mind’s eyes and ears, I began to see how the language of war and conflict are as pervasive as the gender-biased variety I had studied earlier, if not more so. I asked myself, “Can I help my students learn the language of peace and guide their minds away from war and violence as the default source of their vocabulary and action?”
Also in graduate school, I began my fascination with neuroscience research. From this literature, I’ve discovered that humans are born as likely to make peace as to make war. In fact, I believe now that we’re BETTER equipped to make connections with others than we are to fight with or flee from them. The fundamental concept of social intelligence is that humans are genetically programmed to live together; many of our brains’ structures can be used for making these interactions go smoothly.
The poet, Denise Levertov, said that we can’t yet imagine true peace because we have never experienced it, only periods between wars. I think she’s correct, and so we must provide ourselves and our children lots of opportunities to create images of peace using nonviolent language.
Given that we have brains and minds to figure out how to live amicably together, how do we begin? I believe we must start with our own language, the words we use every day. For example, when I’m giving out an Internet address, I say “http colon back stroke, back stroke” instead of “slash, slash.” My lists are created with dots or arrows, not “bullets.” When I want to concentrate on a group or problem, I ask my colleagues to “focus” on it instead of “target” it.
I realize that changing to nonviolent language has made some of my conversations longer as I paused to find a substitute for the first word that pops into my mind. After I introduced this new language to my students, one wrote a hilarious satiric poem about what happened when he took all the violent words out of everyday situations.
If we use our intelligence to tend and befriend, or to follow through on our innate altruism, I’m convinced that in another generation or two, we’ll be able to create a world that isn’t threatened with destruction from us humans. Our brains are ready, now we have to expand our minds and bring this new culture into existence.
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