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Language Liberation and the World Conference

Before and during the 2013 World Conference of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities, a native Basque speaker, Xabi Odriozola, and a native English speaker, Shirley Thatcher, worked together as allies to make the conference as inclusive as possible in terms of language. Below are some excerpts from a longer document they wrote about their experience.

PROGRESS IN THE RC COMMUNITY

Xabi: Beginning several months before the World Conference, a large group of people were in contact with each other about language and interpreting at the conference. I had the chance, and the good luck, to be the coordinator of all these minds.

For me, the conference was like a mirror, reflecting the work that our Communities have done since the previous conference. Our RC project is working well, because each of us is working hard at it every day—in our own locations, in our own minds, and in our daily acts and behavior. Every minute we offer to this project is useful work, whether we are thinking, feeling, arranging, discharging, organizing, supporting, driving, writing, speaking, leading, teaching, getting frustrated and discharging the frustration, or taking up1 the fight to make real the dream, the deep wish, to be our full selves again.

This dream is coming true every day, thanks to the big web of RCers that is breathing and living in each of us every instant of our lives. I notice how eager people are to help push forward what they see as a good, human project or idea, no matter what their distresses or other limitations are in the middle of this oppressive society.

More and more people are understanding that moving the big stone of language oppression out of our way is an important next step for us as a Community. We do need real, equal, and good communication among us.

Native speakers of dominant languages (mainly English, in our case) are increasingly understanding that we are not all English speakers and that every one of us is as necessary and important as anyone else. Our re-emergence depends on all of our minds, not only on those that communicate their thinking in English. Native English speakers are noticing that they need to make an effort to end language oppression, without waiting for non-dominant-language native speakers to do the work. A strong, deep wave of awareness of language oppression is slowly sweeping forward.

Those of us on the oppressed edge who are targeted by language oppression are discharging on how it is affecting us both within and outside of the RC project. We are organizing ourselves and our local Communities in ways that were not possible before. We are influencing and guiding what we think is a more inclusive, equal, and efficient structure for our International RC activities.

Some of us are moving a big piece of the rock of internalized language oppression that was in our way of thinking about ourselves as fully decisive, crucial people for the RC project. This is making a space for different thinking to come into our Communities, and I think we all are noticing the change. We are a ship riding a wave of awareness—slowly, broadly, and strongly.

CONNECTION TO OUR LANDS AND PEOPLES

I’ve observed in different countries how important it is for people to feel connected to their land and their people and therefore their culture and language. If they are connected, they can hold on to unity and solidarity with each other and with the environment. It is more difficult to separate and oppress them.

It is not surprising that one of the first tactics of capitalism and imperialism is to rob Native people of their land—usually by genocide, the repression of the people’s culture and language, and the imposition of the colonizer’s culture or language. Then the people can more easily be manipulated into accepting the role of oppressed or oppressor, depending on the colonizer’s interests.

At the World Conference I decided to lead some topic tables on language liberation for native English speakers. I wanted to see if they had suffered disconnection in the way I expected and if I could help them discharge and think about it. As it turned out,2 they did feel disconnected from their backgrounds. It was a big issue for them, even though they did not realize it at first. When I asked them to remember one word of the language their ancestors had spoken, or a detail about their ancient land, big sessions started to happen. Deep feelings of loss came up and disconnection started to melt. They saw how linked the following triad had been: disconnection from themselves (and mother earth and the environment), language oppression, and imperialism. Listening to native English speakers discharge deeply on this was moving and hopeful for me.

INTERPRETING AT THE CONFERENCE

Seventy people were involved in the interpreting at the conference:

• There were twenty-two interpreters (both up-front and whispering).

• There were twenty-two direct support people for those who interpreted during the meetings of the whole conference. Their main job was to offer support to the interpreters while they were interpreting—by giving them attention, repeating and re-wording phrases, and offering different meanings for words.

• There were nine additional support people (green arm-banders) for the interpreters. Their main job was to offer the interpreters one-way attention anytime it was needed.

• There were nine support persons (yellow arm-banders) for people receiving interpreting. Their main job was to offer one-way attention, anytime it was needed, to those receiving interpreting.

• Eight people formed the main interpreting coordination team. They met every time it was needed (almost every day) to make decisions, change proposals, check on interpreters and the interpreting system, and lead mealtime topic tables for interpreters and for people receiving interpreting. They worked hard to make the conference inclusive and stayed close to people who were having a difficult time with languages or interpreting. The leader of the main interpreting coordination team led some mealtime tables about language oppression and language liberation.

OUR EXPERIENCE, AND WORKING TOGETHER

Xabi: Shirley, what was your experience like, and what did you learn from it?

Shirley: As a native English speaker, it was wonderful to help everyone at the conference be part of expanding the thinking of our Communities. I felt more connected to the RC project overall. Something was made visible to me: how much work non-native English speakers have already done to make RC events inclusive for those who do not speak English as a first language. It is a lot of work, and they can’t do it on their own. Native English speakers, like me, can play a large and helpful role in making sure that every person can be fully present at an RC event. We are all needed.

My work with you has been one of the most significant things I have done in RC. I have been able to step into your world and look at things from your point of view. I have had to look at what it means to identify as English and at my connection to England. A big part of that is addressing how capitalism constantly interferes with my relationships with others. Doing this work with you, an Indigenous man with a different perspective, has helped me face how hurtful the effects of capitalism have been. If I can continue this work, I think I will be able to tackle any of the challenges I face in my life. It is like I was doing a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces and I am finding the bits of me that I lost.

I never before realised that as a native English speaker, who spoke little of another language, I could dominate non-native English speakers just by my presence in a room. The decision to slow down, pause often, and think about how and what I am trying to communicate is making a big difference. I also used to take my communication with other native English speakers for granted, and my lack of awareness there meant that I was missing something important. I believe that I can have more honest, equal relationships in every situation I find myself in, whether at an RC event or just walking down the street.

What has it been like for you, Xabi, to collaborate with a native English speaker like me?

Xabi: Mostly I feel proud of you. You are not the same Shirley I met before you did this job. You decided to take yourself seriously in order to be able to do it with me. That decision from your side has been the best thing for me.

Working with you, a native English speaker, has been an ongoing process of thinking about you—where you are far away or lost from yourself and from me, and what I can do to reach you, which is the same as trying to reach my true self. I am learning a lot about myself by having to think about you. If I want to reach you, I need to know you deeply. To manage the depth of our relationship well, I need to be an expert on my own self´s deep knowing. It is like a final test. If I pass this exam, then I will be ready to better influence the whole Community toward what I glimpse as our next development in group awareness.

Shirley: Do you have more thoughts about how we can all work together?

Xabi: Speakers of dominant languages (mainly English) who are monolingual speakers, or trying to learn a second language (or their first or lost language), need to learn how to speak to non-native English speakers. They need to learn how to speak slowly, clearly, easily, and when necessary. The main goal at first is not to learn a second language but to acknowledge, understand, and discharge the deep material3 that language oppression has laid on their minds.

I will be satisfied if I can help you understand that what we non-native English speakers have already begun (in thinking about how to make RC events as inclusive as possible for those who do not speak English as a first language) is a huge job, which we should not have to do on our own. But even more important, that this huge work happens in every single relationship or contact we have with a native English speaker. I would love it if you and other native English speakers understood this and applied it to every contact you have with a non-native English speaker.

I think it is time to sail, or surf, together. We are going to continue being here and doing this work more and more effectively. I can cry imagining how far we are going to travel on this journey, or wave, together. I cannot see any limit to it. More and more people want to be on this ship and on this wave.

I myself need to keep discharging on the directions that have brought me to this point: (1) I am here forever. (2) I do not have any limits. (3) There is nobody or nothing more important than me. (4) Happiness is an inherent, unavoidable part of me.

The hundreds of people from different parts of the world who have been involved in this work have made good, interesting, logical contributions to this important wave. Eskerrik asko bihotzez (thank you from my heart).

Xabi Odriozola
International Commonality Reference
Person for Languages and Interpreting
Donostia, Basque Country

Shirley Thatcher
Regional Reference Person for 
Cornwall and Southwest England
Bristol, England


1 “Taking up” means embarking on.
2 “Turned out” means happened.
3 “Material” means distress.


Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00