Language is the House of Being
Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home.
—Martin Heidegger, German philosopher, Letter on Humanism, 1947
A friend of mine spoke these words recently with such respect, that I wondered if he was talking to me. I've always considered writing sort of like breathing. It's what I do, every day, every minute. Either on paper or in my mind, I'm thinking about how to describe things, how they will end up in words, but I never ascribe much inherent value to it.
At heart, however, I've always felt enormous responsibility as a writer. It's like being the world's scribe. I am serving others. If not, I am an egomaniac. I may also be an egomaniac, but it's in service to others.
This quote by Heidegger gives us something to think about. Why have word smiths traditionally stood side-by-side with great leaders, along with the war generals? It's because people who decide how to say things ultimately determine what is known as truth. Truth changes, too, as the script is rewritten.
Charlemagne himself said that another language is another soul. I've found that true. In French, I am a different person, with different insights and thoughts. In Czech, I was mostly an idiot ... still, there was a real immediacy to Czech language that gave it an intense, playful sense of now. Anglo-Saxon English language is very action-oriented. We have more verb tenses than almost any other language. Everything is action for us.
Our words define our reality. If you don't believe it, look at a tree and imagine you don't know what to call it, that you don't know about the hierarchy of botanical classification, that you don't know about CO2 exchange and global warming. Just look at it. What is it? How do you know what it is or how to talk about it?
Of course, words don't give the tree meaning. They just help us share its meaning and value. And no matter what we say about the tree ... well, I think that I will never see ....