On our flight home from Ireland I watched Far From the Madding Crowd with Carey Mulligan.
One phrase in the movie particularly stuck out to me.
Bathseba is failing to be understood and finally says, “I…it is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language that is made by men to express theirs.”
Since then, I have been thinking about how our ability to express ourselves is limited by our vocabulary, and often, so is the way in which we experience and see the world.
My background is in finance and this is a vocabulary I feel fluent speaking. As a result, when I go to a new place, learn about a new business, watch the news, or just generally experience things, my brain automatically picks up on information relevant to me thinking about that thing through a financial framework, and it filters out the rest.
Even my perception of something as universal as time is influenced by my financial vocabulary. I look at the year in terms of “quarters” as opposed to months, seasons, holidays etc.
Since taking a step away from the financial industry and diving deeper into exploring my interests in art and culture, I often find I am not equipped to talk about topics eloquently. I simply don’t have enough experience with the relevant vocabulary, which in turn limits my understanding of and communication about whatever it is I am studying.
This experience has also made me think about how our communication is ironically limited as a result of the amount of time we spend texting, emailing , sending emojis etc.
Our language and ability to express ourselves seems be getting over simplified and limited by the day.
I wonder how this will affect not only the way we understand each other, but also ourselves.
One of my best friends is fluent in Spanish and sometimes describes things to me there is a word for in Spanish but not English.
I love these moments so much because often her description of the Spanish word completely opens my eyes to a way of feeling or thinking about something that I’ve felt or observed before, but had never been able to properly convey.
It is fascinating to me that things that are often universal experiences have ways of being described in some cultures but not others.
Taking the time to reflect on how my vocabulary influences the way in which I experience and understand the world has helped me to become a better listener and think more before I speak.
It has also helped spark my curiosity, encouraging me to listen harder,and pay more attention to dialogue or narrative in order to find new, more accurate and eloquent ways of expressing myself and hopefully be better understood.
Do you have any favorite words or expressions that you’ve learned that help you see more clearly?
I recently read this article on 20 useful Latin phrases and learned about the saying “HOMO SUM HUMANI A ME NIHIL ALIENUM PUTO”.
This literally translates to “I am a human being, so nothing human is strange to me”.
What a beautiful phrase that clearly articulates the human experience while emphasizing empathy and respect for all people and cultures.