Diversity Through Words – Discovering Yourself Through Other Languages

Discovering Yourself Through Other Languages

I have this feeling I’ve been trying to describe for a while now. I feel it viscerally – it’s tugging and pulling. But I can’t put the words to it, but I feel like it represents me or my feelings perfectly. Have you ever felt this way? Like there was part of you floating around that you couldn’t verbalize? These words exist. They may not be in your language. And if you challenge yourself to use these words as tools of discovery, you’ll find that you tap into dormant expressions of yourself and open yourself up to a global perspective.

– “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

Words from different languages are pretty cool. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about them. Some words become part of our lexicon through pop culture and trends. We all heard our yoga moms say namaste with a less than perfect accent. But we all know the intention is love and positivity. Words do more than means things, they are also conduits into new cultures, and namaste is a perfect example of what opportunity we lose when a word becomes trendy.

Namaste, a South Asian Sanskrit word, became popular through yoga. The reason why I say that we lose an opportunity is this. If you google namaste and yoga, you’ll find endless information on all the culture’s beauty and richness. Still, once something becomes uber-trendy, all that beauty dies on the tongue and becomes superficial. We want to wield these new words to speak life.

We see this also with our children in the schoolyards. A school in a diverse area may have children playing together who speak multiple languages. They all talk and laugh, and in this, they exchange words. The most common thing that happens isn’t the beautiful exchange of culture – no, they are children, and young and goofy and immature. They exchange all the curse words. Go you any school with a diverse population, pick almost any kid on the playground, and I can almost guarantee that they will know at least two curse words in at least three languages.

We have the ability to learn, understand, and use words from languages foreign to us. So, I ask — what can we tap into our curiosity and use language as the conduit to new worlds and understandings? What possibilities for expression would we uncover? How would it affect how we view and interact with one another? What form of compassion and acceptance would we hold? With just a few words, we could evolve into a version of ourselves we never knew.

New words, like namaste introduced through pop culture, are perfect gateways to entire schools of philosophy. These are special because these new schools of thought may be that very thing we’ve been internally searching for but could never grasp. My favorite example currently is the Japanese term ikigai. With English, we have the purpose of the words or calling that we use in our search to find meaning in life and our place in the world. But ikigai perfectly encapsulates this search, the discovery, and the journey all into one word. When we use words from different languages as personal exploration vehicles, there’s no telling where we could go.

The Bottom Line

It can be profound and life-changing, but it can also be fun. You may find a new school of thought that you dedicate your life to. Or you may do some reading and find out that you are a flâneur, like myself, which is a person who enjoys walking the streets soaking in all the beauty of their surroundings. Finding a word that describes you to the tee is self-affirming. It gives you a sense of community even when you feel alone in the world around you. Feelings of being lost or being uncertain sometimes come from the belief that what you want or what you are doesn’t exist – but it does, and it’s real. Try discovering yourself through other languages.

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