I grew up in a mixed vegetable soup of cultures. I cannot remember a time in my life when I was not aware of at least three cultures around me – two within the immediate family. One knew he could he could never take anything for granted. Foreign words were seen as opportunities to expand your vocabulary. Unusual dishes were opportunities to experience something exciting. Even the way you nodded yes and no and shook hands changed with your audience. The only thing I knew for sure was that English was English.
The English myth held until I had my first encounter with an Englishman. I discovered that I had no idea how to speak the Queen’s English. Even though we sounded different, I held on to the mythology that even though we said, spelt, and at times used words differently, at their core they meant the same thing.
As I look back with a smile on my face, I wonder how I could have been so naïve. There are almost as many versions of English as there are states in the US. Beyond the major versions, are the adaptations and variations across generations and linked to culture and time. A recent conversation reminded me that one should never assume s/he understands a phrase or word. If everything fits – context, body language, and apparent intent, you are probably ok in using your assumption. If anything is off, then my rule is to ask!
Life reminds me that we, as least I take words casually. I forget that words can carry deep meaning, creating sacred space with something as simple as giving them sound. An old observation applies to words and actions; “They’ll treat them like a joke, and make a religion of their own whims and lusts.” (Jude 1.18)
As I shared a conversation yesterday with a friend, I am reminded of the way words express care and concern. Words carry emotions from one heart to another. It is a two-way street – sharing, listening, and learning. At the heart of each moment are individuals and our expressions.