Our entire culture is based around language. It’s how we communicate with each other, it’s how we share our thoughts, ideas, and emotions, and it shapes the internal dialogue we have with ourselves too.
But there is a very real predicament that comes along with the words we use—one that’s inescapable—it is the disease of knowledge. Or rather, it’s the knowledge of what we assume to know that is the actual threat.
With every word we speak our intellect replaces the direct experience of something with a conceptual understanding of it. True knowledge is thereby reduced into a few letters or symbols of mutually accepted meaning.
Our words are like seeds. Once spoken, they grow into ideas where they then blossom into beliefs—regardless of whether or not they happen to speak the truth. The problem is that we place our implicit trust in the story and mental imagery they create within our minds.
Words can cripple us. They can also cripple how we perceive the world.
Anyone who’s ever been teased, bullied, or called a hurtful name can attest to this fact. Our personal history with a word can thereby cast a shadow of ignorance onto every future occurrence we have with it.
For example, any word that singles out a certain group of people paints them all with the same brush. Inside some people's mental imagery, one Canadian is no different than all Canadians. One Muslim is the same as the next. One nerd is no different than any other nerd. One thief, one doctor, one dentist, one lawyer, one policeman—to the non-critical thinker, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
And this is why it’s so easy for humans to go to war—we make it all too easy to cast judgements upon one another, solely because of the words we use and how accustomed we’ve become to lump similar appearing things together, assuming they're all the same.
This is where our linguistic machinery fails us, and where our technology of words becomes not only broken, but severely cruel, dangerous, and harmful, not only to others, but to ourselves.
We are jaded by our assumptions. We are cut off from the truth of reality by our so-called knowledge of it.
Words can only reference a concept of reality, but a word will never come close to the actual truth of direct experience itself. Any experience of an experience is immediately compromised by the shift in perception caused by the words we use to describe it. In so doing, we end up ignoring countless wondrous things by allowing ourselves to be lulled into complacency, caused by nothing other than our reliance upon language.
Our words cause us to become intellectually lazy.
Our words destroy reality—they deconstruct entire worlds with only an utterance, reducing them to mere rubble within the space of a breath.
A four hundred year old giant, a living testament to the passage of time, a growing organism that has bore witness to centuries of world change, a creator of life, a sustainer of worlds, and an entire ecosystem all on its own, is reduced into a mere four letter word—something we all agree to call a ‘tree'. No two trees are the same, and yet every single one shares the exact same word.
The word ‘tree’ will never come close to communicating the very real experience of being in its majestic presence, of observing it first-hand, and of truly knowing it. If we truly understood what a ‘tree' truly meant, they’d be much harder to cut down.
So how can we come clean from all of the preconceived agreements we’ve unknowingly made with our words? The truth is, we can’t. Certain words are lost to us forever because of tainted beliefs.
We must heal ourselves from all of our assumptions.
Listen, but don’t believe a word. Question everything and everyone—don’t trust anyone, especially yourself—not because you mistrust the person who speaks them, but because you mistrust the very concepts behind the words themselves.
Learn through direct experience—and whenever possible, see for yourself.
True freedom can only be found when we completely eliminate our belief systems, and when we’re no longer bound by all of the knowledge we’ve inherited.
Don’t assume you know anything.
Only when we agree that we don’t know anything at all will we truly be able to understand everything.
“Words can bring you only up to their own limit; to go beyond, you must abandon them. Remain as the silent witness only.”
—Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj