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The Meal Gatha in our kitchen: a language of compassion
Ugh. My mother-in-law was talking about a dog last weekend and kept referring to the dog as ‘it’.
As a lifelong student of language, I’ve known for a long while how language shapes the mind. Be it using disparaging slang to describe women – which shapes the worldview not only of those who use it but the women who hear it – or referring to a fully conscious being as ‘it’, language molds our minds for good or bad.
My mother-in-law kept saying ‘it’ over and over, until I finally spoke up. I asked her if she knew what gender the dog is. Turns out she knew, and the dog is in fact female. So, I suggested that she refer to the dog as ‘her’, or better yet, by her proper name.
She was sorry for offending me. She didn’t deeply offend me, and I explained that. But calling any living, conscious, feeling creature ‘it’ is a practice that I call low-awareness language. It’s a level of mental condition that tells me that this person has not evolved much in his or her lifetime.
Or maybe he or she genuinely believes that any creature other than a human is, in fact, an ‘it’. In which case I would call his or her thinking positively larval.
It makes me sad every time I hear it. Years ago, being shy, I would say little to nothing, and quietly cringe. But age has made me short-fused and undaunted, and when confronted with someone who refers to an animal as ‘it’, you can count on me to stand up on my hind legs and howl. Respectfully.
I’m bone-weary of the thinking that humans occupy a precious place on Mother Earth and stand at the top of the pecking order. I’m sorry, but no. There is no pecking order. Everything that lives is a co-inhabitant, a co-creator, and a co-evolver. Being human is not a license to trample.
Language is potent. It weaves illusions and shapes the user. Used wrongly, it weaves illusions of racism, sexism, xenophobia, egoism, and classism. Used correctly, it brings us closer to compassion and understanding. So be careful, because language shapes the user in ways that are not expected until it’s too late.
If your habit is to refer to animals as ‘it’, it’s time for you to evolve. Go with ‘he’ or ‘she’, and feel free to default to the masculine ‘he’ if you’re not sure of gender. Or default to ‘she’ if you’re most comfortable with that. The animals will appreciate it, and so will I.
Live in peace.