We use language to define ourselves, other human beings and the world around us.
The word “I” immediately cuts us off from the rest of humanity, as does the word “you” – both refer to distinct individuals. The word “we” situates us – you and I – among other humans, all of whom are also distinct individuals.
Some words that identify us are socially situated; son, brother, daughter, sister, father, uncle, grandmother, etc. We assume these identities as a reflection of close personal relationships.
We also have words that give us anonymous identities; bystander, driver, commuter, pedestrian, shopper, etc.
There are only two words that distinguish human sexual identity; male or female (transgender can go either way).
All the above identities are universal among all humans and therefore deserve the highest priority, mainly because we all share these identities – we can identify with each other.
Unfortunately, in the modern world, we’ve broken down our language and ourselves into smaller and smaller categories, driving ourselves further and further apart.
We invented words that divide us by nationality – Spaniards, Americans, French, Russian, English, African, etc.
Within these “nationalist” categories are smaller groupings of identities; for example, religion – Catholic, Evangelical, Lutheran, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Hopi, etc.
We have words to identify us economically; rich, poor, middle class, upper middle, homeless, working person, “minimum wage,” blue collar – white collar, etc.
We use words of color to distinguish ourselves racially; white, black, brown, yellow or “Oriental.”
We invented words to categorize ourselves politically; redneck, liberal, neoliberal, conservative, Nazi, Democrat, Republican, anarchist, etc.
We came up with new words and phrases to describe changes in our world; Great Pacific Garbage Patch, global warming, weather change, mass extinction, etc.
Language can either unify us or send us to our doom.