So many languages and with that knowing comes the knowing that no matter what, I will never speak them all. Arabic. Arabic kinda makes my stomach do happy things, especially in songs. So does Hebrew. With a little focus I could speak fluent Italian and Spanish fairly quickly, and that would be nice. And that would still leave many, many languages out of reach. Meaning, many many people I will never be able to talk with, but more specifically: many more ways in which I will not know myself.
When I speak French, my heart and my brain connect with a Frenchness, a way of being, of thinking, of expressing myself. No matter how much I fight it, a whiff of cynicism (we call it humor) sometimes creeps in. I shrug more often, while a layer of superficiality automatically gets scrubbed off, somehow leaving things more substantial. Go figure.
When I speak Italian, everything is more beautiful and more decorative. At the edges of words hang little curlicues and shiny dots. I feel prettier, I feel sexier and I feel as though nothing could ever go terribly wrong.
When I speak Spanish, I am both 5 years old and a little more awake. The joy level goes up right away, no matter whether I am buying avocados or negotiating a taxi. I feel more alive and in some way, authentic.
And then there is English. This is the easiest one for me to close my eyes and let the words out in a specific way, even though it might hold the least specific vocabulary. It is the language of my grown up years and it is as comfortable as a pair of jeans, even though I still miss a button once in a while.
All this to say, there are many languages and we show up differently with each of them.
And here is an important point: often, while traveling, the funnest part of all is to share language, to go from one to the other depending on whom it is we are talking with. In a way, they are contagious.
Hang on to that thought.
Which brings me to this: The Other Languages. The languages that are just as varied, just as rich, just as powerful - but not as obvious - as English, Arabic, Finnish or Portuguese. We speak them, we can go from on to another, we can learn them and the more we practice them, the better we get at speaking them.
These Other Languages include Kindness, Empathy, Anger, Guilt, Jealousy, Negativity, Aloofness, Tenderness, Compassion, Levity and more.
At any given time, you and I are speaking one of these.
At any given time, someone is speaking one of these to us.
The Other Languages usually come with no accent, a simple grammar and a varied vocabulary. They inform, they threaten, they cajole, they soothe, they play … they are languages.
Just like the “regular languages,” the Other Languages are contagious.
This means that just as if you talked with me in French I would most likely answer to you in French without thinking about it much, it is very, very easy to match someone’s other Language without skipping a beat.
For instance: If you walk over to me and talk to me in Agressivity, it is going to be natural for me to adjust my body, my heart rate and my words to match your Language and respond to you in Agressivity. When that happens, the results are much less fun than when we order gelato together in Italian.
In that space between the time when I hear your Other Language and I respond is the opportunity for something I call Language Sovereignty.
Language Sovereignty is not easy and in the last couple of days, I have been dancing with it, sensing plenty of opportunities to practice it in the days to come, also.
Boy it’s hard. Harder than Spanish grammar. Harder than those darn English prepositions that have been getting me in trouble for 4 decades and maybe even harder than remembering how to say popcorn in Farsi.
Why is it so hard? I think mainly because we forget that we have a choice.
But we do.
And did I mention it was hard?
And, as a friend reminded me lately: we can do hard things; especially when they are worth it.
Learning Language Sovereignty is worth it.
Why is Learning Language Sovereignty worth it?
How do we us Language Sovereignty?
We take time outs if we need them.
The trick is to hear the other person, really hear them, while not catching a piggy back ride on their Language. Remembering that they make sense to them, that their choice of Language is just as valid as ours, too. And that it’s theirs.
Like I said, it’s not easy.
Today I invite you to consider practicing Language Sovereignty next time the local Language does not feel right for you. I invite you to remember that you have a choice. That your mouth is yours and yours only and that only by using the Language of your choice will you be able to share your truth with yourself, another person and the world.
Then, I invite you to give yourself a big, big hug for being so brave and strong and real.