I recently took one of those tests which tells you which “intelligences” you possess, whether you are good at math, interacting with others, writing, music, or a host of other things. One, which had just been included but, the testmaker said, may or may not be an “intelligence,” was “nature.”
To me, nature isn’t an “ability,” but a language. I walk into a forest or look up at the sky, and I experience a poem or symphony or insight. I scored high on “nature” but low on “music,” which surprised me because I have always loved music. Someone else who took the test scored very low on “nature” but high on “music” even though he has spoken eloquently about the beauty of landscapes.
What this made me realize is that our world is full of many different kinds of languages and some we understand while others we simply do not. The musician who also took the test hears a song and it mostly likely, to him, has many layers of meaning, opens up new emotions and ideas, expresses that which can only be understood through music. I think that I, who do not really speak the language of music, do not comprehend what he and others who know this language well hear. I may enjoy music, but others perceive aspects of music that I simply do not. Maybe I could, now that I understand that it is a language, learn that language, too.
Anything that expresses truth to you is a language. I know people who look at a mathematical equation and see their Creator and others who can talk to someone for two minutes and know them thoroughly just based on body language, attitude, word choice or whatever (personal interaction isn’t one of my best languages, so I don’t know what else that language includes).
I like the idea of viewing what might be thought of as “abilities” as “languages” because that perspective celebrates the interactions and connections we have with our universe. We aren’t just skilled at teasing out the strands of harmony, but we are conversing with music. We don’t just have the ability to identify different species during a walk in a meadow, but we are walking with the meadow and listening to what it is saying to us.
I wonder if use of this word “intelligences” rather than “languages” comes from our culture’s emphasis on individual ability to produce rather than the capacity to understand and connect. Maybe it reflects how our culture grades people on how they do on tests and other so-called objective measures rather than who they are as human beings, how we value production of commodities over relationship, how we find it easier to judge rather than reach out. Maybe if we thought in terms of the universe being made up of many languages, we might view the world and our place in it a bit differently.
When two people speak different languages, it doesn’t mean that they will necessarily misunderstand each other, but that they can open up whole new worlds for one another. When the musician sings, I get a glimpse of what he hears when he listens to music, something that is a precious gift. I like to think that one of my descriptions of watching snow fall would offer him a small insight into what I experience, too.
Recognizing the “languages” that we speak and others don’t can also help us communicate with one another and help each other better understand what we are trying to say. I know that I will make a special effort to “translate” experiences more when I am writing or speaking with people who may not speak the “languages” I do.
I also think of the many languages spoken over the centuries frequently by women that have been lost. The language of healing herbs, of the women’s arts that are no longer widely practiced, of traditions related to women that are no longer observed or remembered – what did these languages once express that we may never experience again?
I also wonder if many “languages” are not given their due because they are commonly associated with women’s tasks and lives. I think of a friend who can pack an entire life philosophy about finding joy in everyday pleasures amidst tragedy into one bowl of pasta. What other aspects of our lives would we dive into with gusto and learn from if we only saw them for the meaningful “languages” they are?
We are at a time in history when communicating not only with each other, but with the world we all inhabit, is essential. We must take the time to listen to all that we can, even that which speaks in languages we may not understand as well. As in so many things, we are on this planet to work together, and remembering and honoring our many languages is one tool to use as we hopefully progress towards a more peaceful, sustainable, happy global existence.