Thursday, April 18, 2013

The naming of things

Taking a study break to pull together some thoughts I've been having lately.

One of my aunts passed away suddenly, two summers ago.  At her funeral I realized that interest in languages and cultures is not uncommon on my dad's side of the family.  She was into those things too.  And American Sign Language, which I gather she studied as part of her work.

Even state-side, being a military Brat tends to encourage those thoughts of a bigger world, knowing people who were born in Germany, or were stationed in Japan, or other parts of the world.

I can remember reading articles in the 1980's, about the idea of the United States as a melting pot, versus a salad bowl. 

The problem with melting pot imagery is that it implies that we lose our individuality.  That everything mixes together, that everyone loses their previous identity, and we all become one homogeneous alloy.  In fact, Globalization of the 1980's often seemed that way, like the imposition of Western cultures upon the rest of the world.

Many people would prefer to keep their language, traditions, holidays, cultural foods.  Keep them, enjoy & share their own traditions, and sometimes pick up other traditions learned here.  That's the salad bowl, where lettuce and carrots and tomatoes do not lose themselves.  Each difference can add something new to the mix... but we don't have to eat everything.

Along with this idea, comes the idea that each person has a right to name themselves, to name their heritage, to name their culture, whatever blend of cultures their family has.  I don't have the right to impose my name for things on another person's reality.  It is their right to name themselves.

More recently, I see this in social justice work, applied to both gender and sexuality.  Each person has the right to name their own reality; their own gender, their own sexuality.  Trying to force someone into one of your label boxes is an act of violence.   By denying their name, one denies their reality.  Denying their reality is a step towards denying their very existence.  That is violence, and unacceptable.

I've tried to apply this to my understanding of languages and cultures over more than twenty years. 

As I became UU, I carried it over to my philosophy about spiritual practices. 

It is not my right to name another person's religion or spiritual path, only they can do that.  I can ask them if they think this name I know that seems to fit their beliefs is one they wish.  But it is their decision, to pick it up and wear it with pride, or to set it aside and say "No, thank you.  That label doesn't fit me right now." 

Just as I give that courtesy to others, I will insist on that courtesy for myself.  I am the only person who gets to name my spiritual path.  You may offer ideas and suggestions for what you think my path might be, but I choose whether to accept those ideas or not.  While my spiritual path is chosen, it is very deeply rooted in my being, and a very important part of my life.  To deny my name for this piece of me, is to deny my reality and my existence.  That is violence, and I will not accept it.