“Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel.” – Genesis 11
More and more I’m convinced these days that much of the world’s problems lie in language. If we all spoke the same language, the world would be a better place. As human beings we all want basically the same things – a full stomach, a roof over our head, love in our life, a chance to succeed and our freedoms of expression. Most people who have these things are basically happy. Happy people don’t make war. There’s nothing to war about.
I’m trying to keep this simple without being simplistic. But if this were true…
“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” – Genesis 11
…I think we’d be having a much better time of it. Consider politics. How many wars have started throughout history because of a misunderstanding of what was said? My uneducated guess would have to be somewhere around 90%.
“War is what happens when language fails” – Margaret Atwood
And if we can’t speak the same language to begin with, what have we?
War has got to be the worst mistake of the human race. As long as there are wars, how can we as a race ever evolve? It is the lowest of ideas.
Certainly one of the greatest causes of war throughout history has been our differences of religious beliefs. And yet, in my own study of the world’s religions, I’ve most often found a commonality of belief uniting us all – only separated by the misapprehension of language. When it gets right down to it, I find that at the center of every religion I’ve ever studied are basic principles that say and reach for the same thing. The words chosen to represent these universal ideas are often strange to many because they are expressed in unfamiliar terms and so fear of being different creeps in and makes creeps of us all.
Even within the Christian religion there are problems of language that separate us. How the Bible is interpreted is a constant source of unrest even among Protestant religions. And those interpretations are almost always based on readings in the English language of texts that are often translations of previous translations handed down over the centuries. We end up mincing words to a fault when what we should really be doing is agreeing on basic concepts.
If we all spoke the same language, how much easier that would be.
“And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they all have one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” – Genesis 11
Makes sense. Now all we have to do is work it. But that’s the hard part, isn’t it? How do we all speak the same language?
Until we figure this out, let’s try to be patient with one another and learn to recognize when it is actually language that is getting in the way. Let’s try to see through the language to the truth and not fear others if they don’t sound like us.
It’s a start.
In the meantime, there is one universal language that we all understand and could be much better used to communicate – music.
“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” – Kahlil Gibran
“Music is the universal language of mankind” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.” –William Shakespeare