“The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proved again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.” —Jean-Luc Picard
For the Star Trek universe, this directive refers to technology. Why do so many agree with it? Because we see that a huge technology differential hurts the civilization who possesses less technology.
“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” —Prof. Steven Hawking
Not based on science-fiction but on history, Dr. Hawking believes that the differential between us and aliens who might contact us would likely destroy us.
Why are people concerned about this difference in technology? Because technology is power, and a huge power differential will destroy the weak.
Nevertheless, the Enterprise continued to boldly go where no man had gone before. Dr. Hawking, in contrast, suggests we avoid aliens. The two differ because the United Federation of Planets assumed that it was more powerful than other civilizations, while Dr. Hawking fears that aliens could clobber us—even by accident.
I’ve recently frustrated some of my readers in comparing language-study as colonial and exploitative. I want to look more deeply here at the situations that bring these traits to the fore.
Power differences can result in unintended consequences. Does loving language threaten others or mediate that threat? Loving language
Writing this week’s post surprised me. My languages brought me into a mental space, I found out, where I recognized my need for “dangerous” language situations that potentially make me look stupid or annoying. Moreover, my strange, unique language love compels me into these fantastic experiences. I’m a language misfit, which leads me to connect with unexpected, unlikely people, resulting in great joy.
The decision and process of learning a language can initiate an internal change that leads to becoming a more confident, innovative, and creative person. I have noticed more discussion about the positive aspects of delving into the areas in our life where we are least comfortable. Anyone who has learned a foreign language has very likely experienced discomfort and even embarrassment. That element of vulnerability can transform us into a better person.
Brené Brown‘s TED talk demonstrates that becoming vulnerable opens up oneself and others to creativity and dynamism. (Brené Brown: Listening to shame) Dr. Brown says at one point, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. ” Most of our life, we run from vulnerability; we hide from shame. This reaction prevents us from being great and courageous, and so by avoiding our weakness, we cannot fully tap into our strengths. When you speak to another with the halting, imperfect, even accidentally insulting words of a foreign language, you enter into a space where you confront your weakness and open yourself to deeper learning.
In the article, “Sure Enough” by Diana Rico (Ode July/August 2012, vol. 10, no. 4 [article not on line yet, but I hope it will be soon]), we see that uncertainty fuels knowledge, as doubt releases us from conflict. She describes how confronting her doubt that she can perform a particular yoga pose “gives way to the most delicious feeling of spaciousness in my hip.” Once she confronted her doubt in herself, she came into a greater feeling of strength. Rico also presents the results of a study, in which scientists and philosophers identified “uncertainty” as the scientific concept that “would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit.” Opening oneself to the fact that one may not be correct–doubt–one becomes open to new knowledge. One who practices doubt with others learns. A language-learner never knows if he or she is saying the right thing, and so becomes a person who is learning constantly.
Peter Blomquist at TEDxRanier describes the way to become more innovative (specifically in the area of global development) by entering into other another culture. He makes three suggestions: 1) Challenge your assumptions. 2) “Zip it”–listen and learn. 3) Accept the hospitality of others. This challenge equals doubt, which allows one to be the learner I mentioned above. Blomquist moves one step beyond the others above by mentioning hospitality. I see this movement also applies to language-learning. By doubting and learning, one enters into communion with another; you join together at the table of the other. Much language can be learned when all are open to one another, learning from each other, spending that time together. Those who have become fluent in a language have surely spent much time at the table of speakers of that language.
I invite you to tap into your strength by confronting weakness and vulnerability. You can become more creative and more innovative, and ultimately move into closer relationships with others.
When has your moment of vulnerability brought about more closeness with others?