It is no exaggeration to say that, if you are between the ages of 18 and 25 or thereabouts, the language you use from day to day, in your speaking and in your writing, is a fulcrum on which the future of humanity may depend i.e. whether we survive or not as a species. The human species faces severe ecological crisis this century (see The Evidence) and the words we use and the way we arrange them, are crucial to our survival. It is the youngest generation of adults that is best placed to lead the necessary revolution in human civilisation. This is because of their familiarisation with the sharing economy, their technological savvy, their ecological awareness, and their average physical health and fitness (i.e. resilience and capacity for a diversity of work).
For us to behave in the most effective and focused way, our linguistically expressed intent must be structured and focused, whether that intent is expressed out loud, on paper or screen, or only in our thoughts. It is true that motivation may be pictorial also (images in mind) but on closer examination these images have stories embedded in them which can only be understood in words.
It is also true that we can act on the spur of the moment, without thought but mindfully. However, there are dead and oppressive narratives, tied up in hypocritical knots of language, which must be combated or reshaped according to logical and linguistic capacities. Yes, we can act with one-pointedness and presence, free of cluttering thoughts, but until we set aside time to question and contemplate the speech forms and written forms we use, there will still be unconscious elements in even the most mindful self-expression. These elements are often malignant, preserving power imbalances in society of men over women, white over black, rich over poor and so on. The malignancy may be protected in hypocritical or obfuscating word play. For instance, take the phrase, ‘Hey you guys!’, an American greeting of groups of either or mixed genders. It may seem like quite an equitable phrase, treating everyone the same, in a ‘cool’ kind of way. Yet the apparent benignity of this phrase may conceal the obvious: the male takes precedence over the female; a ‘guy’ is a man. As if we all must identify as men to be recognised / greeted.
Spelling: In uncovering the unhelpful and unhealthy narratives and phrases which underlie decaying and toxic elements in human society and culture, and constructing therapeutic and holistic narratives, spelling plays at least two roles. These roles apply to all human linguistic expression, but when the transformation of global culture is at stake, the roles take on extra import.
Firstly, we spell in the conventional ‘correct’ manner so that our intentions are not misconstrued and interrupted (by bad spelling). Secondly, we may choose words which are spelt in a way which suits what we want to say, rather than words whose spelling may detract from or contradict our message. Additionally we may choose words whose spellings (and corresponding meanings) point towards a renewed human culture.
Grammar and Punctuation: The role of grammar and punctuation, including as in the transformation of culture, is to ensure the clear, accessible and coherent representation, division and emphasis of the words that we choose to communicate.
The unique challenge in modern conscious contexts of responsible spelling, grammar and punctuation is to be clear in our reshaping of culture, from moment to moment. Messy expression reflects in messy understanding from others and in the worst cases, misdirected behaviour, or at least delays between understanding and action which perhaps can’t be afforded.
It seems to me that there is an underlying narrative concerning spelling, grammar and punctuation which may be unique to contemporary times. The story goes like this: ‘it doesn’t matter so much to be good with spelling, punctuation and grammar these days: the important thing is getting your message out there’ This is subtle and slight, as spelling etc are universally still seen as important to a degree, but it seems to me that standards of English in general have been willingly dropped in recent decades. This is predominantly the influence of online culture -or influences within online culture- including the fact that the boundaries between publicly accessible casual communications / content, and ‘professionally published’ material have become blurred. This blurring can also be understood as a blurring of cultural boundaries in general. Although these boundaries are complex and the driving forces of increased ambiguity cannot simply be ‘capitalist’, nevertheless blurred edges are potentially, both the sign of a civilisation approaching its limits, and a fertile ground for the reshaping of cultural norms -the reshaping of civilisation.
Without wanting to sound like that old English teacher at school who you hated, if we are serious about transforming this world that we live in, I propose that we start off with improving our basic English skills, or the skills of whichever our native language happens to be. For the youngest adults amongst us, those beginning to appreciate the burden of the disintegrating civilisation that the rest of us have laid on their shoulders, and those who are most malleable and nimble on the internet and with the fastest rates of technological change, the imperative for clear communication is all the more urgent.