The Importance of Language and How We Speak to Each Other

A fascinating book called Sister Revolutions: French Lightning and American Light by Dr. Susan Dunn provides an interesting comparison of the American and French Revolutions. According to Dunn, one of the factors that allowed the American revolutionaries’ to successfully write a constitution and form a working government was the very strict guidelines the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention placed on what language was appropriate when addressing other members of the Convention.  The delegates knew that to compromise on the incredibly complex and emotional topics laid before them, the manner with which they spoke to each other had to be of a very formal, polite manner.

 The French Revolution, in Dunn’s view, deteriorated into extreme violence and chaos in part because the leaders rejected decency and kindness between leaders with different views and used vitriolic and incendiary language to punish political foes.

Dunn’s point is that language we use, and the way we use it, when dealing with problems is of utmost importance. If we are to solve the challenges facing us as a society it is imperative we speak with and act towards each other with restraint and respect.

In recent years political, social and cultural differences, often fueled by the internet and social media, have led to an increase in hurtful language, and, quite often, meanness. A recent controversy over a tweet by actor Jim Carrey makes the point.  No matter where one falls on the political spectrum or how one views the current leadership of the United States, Carrey’s tweet was mean and unhelpful in furthering constructive conversation.  Dunn’s thinking, combined with the meanness in daily discourse in larger society, has led me to reflect on my own understanding of our community, education, and our school.

The art and science of educating the next generation is incredibly complex.  This is so because teaching and learning are very personal processes that often lay bare both our strengths and weaknesses as students, teachers and leaders. Parents also have tremendous emotional ties to schooling as their children confront the challenges of growing as learners and human beings.  To complicate the situation further, EAB educates students from close to 50 countries who have different languages, religions, cultural norms and expectations for the work of schools. In this context there is a high chance that at some point there will be insecurity, disagreement and frustration.

In this emotional atmosphere it is crucial that we remember Dunn’s lesson that the way we speak to each other matters.  The way we treat each other matters. The way we confront problems matters. At The American School of Brasilia we demand that we treat each other kindly through a strict adherence to the highest standards for language and respect when addressing the complex challenges that we will face.  This is the EAB way and it is explicit in our core documents and values:

From the EAB Upper School Honor Code:

“…(we) give our pledge to  live by the guiding principles of responsibility and respect in all we say and do.”

“We commit to treat all people with compassion…”

From The Rights of EAB Community Members:

“All members of the EAB Community must be spoken to in a respectful manner at all times.”

 EAB is a kind, caring community and whether a parent, teacher, leader or student, we are all striving for the same thing: excellence in teaching and learning that leads our students to lives of meaning, purpose, happiness, and ultimate success.  As we together pursue this lofty goal we must constantly remind ourselves of our commitment as a school community to treat each other with the respect and kindness we all deserve.

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