I've sat with frustration, as have many others, over communication issues, seemingly particular to immigration. You know the rhetoric: "If those people are going to come to our land, they've gotta learn to speak our language." This ideology goes further then to presume: no it goes on to assume that because another is unable to speak 'our language' that one must be stupid, ignorant, un-worthy, less than deserving of basic inalienable rights.
This ideology frustrates me; I spent several years working in a Physical Therapy office and saw a number of folk who came in with a variety of work related injuries; one particular individual I'll recount worked for a flagging crew. He was hit by a car as he was holding one of the warning flags. He spoke little/no English; conversing thru an interpreter, I learned he'd been a biological engineer (?? is that right?) back in Mexico, but accepted what work he could because he didn't speak the language, and he shared his frustrations with the assumptions that he was less than intelligent based on that qualification alone. Truth is, anybody who wanted to know, wanted to speak, wanted to hear what he had to say was able to spend the time find the avenues to make communication happen, if they thought it was important enough.
But we, as a society, hold the arrogant mindset that says 'They have to learn our language if we are going to deem them worthy.' This is lived out in rhetoric in governmental paperwork, shopping centers, road signs, and we rail against the ignorance and arrogance; we push against the isolatory exceptionalism.
Funny how a little thing like language - a willingness to learn another's language can have such an effect on society - on how we view those who are different from us. Amazing how a thing like language can either bring people together or further polarize and isolate.
Even more amazing is that even within a common language some messages 'speak' while others fail to do so. By 'Speak' I mean - 'to illicit a particularly desirable response'. I was struck by a particular video this morning -
Now, it's fairly obvious that this is a staged scenario - easy to play off as trite or simply aimed at tugging the heart-strings. But yeah. It does tug at those strings. It speaks to the nature of communication and the role the message plays in how we invite others to participate in that message - either as proclaimers or responders. Do we wish people to respond? People can either respond positively or negatively - they will have a response one way or another, being mindful that ambivalence and apathy are a response as much as generosity and compassion are a response. The deeper question is - what response is a desirable response? What response is the desirable response?
How do you find people engage the message you proclaim? Do you find yourself upset that people are not hearing? not listening? not gettin' it? What language are you speaking? Do you speak the same language to those who 'get it' as you do with those who don't? Maybe if you just speak louder, that'll help; maybe if you slow your words down, that will more effectively impress upon them what they're supposed to do; maybe if we call them names and ply them with shame and guilt for their lack of understanding - maybe that will help.
If the message is really that powerful, that meaningful - I think it's worth the time, commitment, and attention to learning how to better proclaim that message in a way that people can most appropriately engage and respond, even if it means learning to speak a multiplicity of divergent languages.
What language will we choose?