Saturday, April 4, 2009

thinking about language

In the art group yesterday, there was a volunteer I haven't worked with. He came with a reputation of being somewhat childlike himself and I groaned inwardly when I saw him. It is the begining of the quarter and its a good idea to introduce myself to the volunteers and explain what our afternoon art group is about. I forgot to do this and instead, I got involved in an elaborate discussion of contemporary politics, the result of being somewhat contrarian myself. The art group got off to slower start than our political discussion and as we wound our way through butterfly windsocks, one of the participants commented that the two butterflies she needed to glue together didn't quite match. "Operator error" I said. ""Or, perhaps different operators" she replied. "Yeah, but it gives them personality" I added. The volunteer broke in: "Who needs personality?" I wondered if this person had any idea of the effect of his words. Next to the grandmother sat her granddaugher who was experiencing the effects of a prolonged siege of cancer. With no eyebrows, no hair, no eyelashes, and missing one limb, she might well be wondering if she still had a personality. After all, these are some of the marks that we unconsciously combine into our understanding of personality. Appearances are unavoidably connected with our understanding of personality. "I've got wild curly hair, I'm intense and sometimes overeffusive I might say about myself." or, "I'm often serious and when you see my eyebrows wiggling up and down, you're going to wonder if I'm not overreacting." With the excuse of picking up a package of oil crayons from my cart, I excused myself and walked into the ChildLife office. After expressing myself with a few choice words, one of the women gently but firmly took me in hand with her words. "You've got to explain to him the importance of language." She explained that he probably wasn't aware of the effects of his words. I heard everything she said, and I listened carefully, but what hooked me in were the words: "the importance of language."