The idea of "language" goes far beyond a lexicon of words, communicating universal experiences like love, laughter, and loneliness, serving as a portal to cultures, feelings, and thoughts that unite us all. Come celebrate humanity with master storyteller Poet Ali as he leans into Helen Keller’s words, which inspired the RSAC 2023 theme: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
>> ANNOUNCER: Please welcome Speaker and Master of Human Connection, Poet Ali.
>> POET ALI: Hi, good afternoon. How is everybody doing? All right, there's an electric energy in the air right now, right? I want to start by asking you guys a question. How many languages do you speak? This is not a rhetorical question. I want you to take a number, think of it inside of your head. For some of you, you’re like that’s easy, it’s one; you’re speaking it bud. When I asked myself the question, I came up with four, arguably five if I had been drinking.
But then on closer look, I made it all the way up to 83. 83 languages and it forced me to revisit this notion we have of languages. The first definition says the method of human communication either spoken or written consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. If we go down to the bottom, number three, we see it talks about fields like your guys’ field, medicine, tech, jargon used in those places. But what most interested me was the definition right in the center there, the system of communication used by particular community or country. And I wasn't interested in altering that definition but I was interested in applying it to everything we do because I believe we speak far more languages than we realize.
And for the rest of our short time together I am going to attempt to speak in one language that is native to every person in this room. But that changes things a little bit because then it's no longer a presentation, it becomes a conversation. And with any conversation, there has to be a degree of interaction or it doesn't really count, okay? So, I have chosen a relatively low risk common denominator to see if we are all willing. If you are having a good time, clap your hands.
>> POET ALI: Okay.
(Speaking non English language)
(Speaking non-English lnaguage).
>> POET ALI: Gracias, go ahead and take a seat. For some of us that was a little bit awkward, the non-Spanish speakers just started clapping, like, yep, all right. The Spanish speakers looked at some of you guys and laughed and I promise there was no joke being had at your expense. I simply asked the Spanish speaking audience to stand up, look at a person close to them and chuckle a little bit. I know that wasn’t nice, but in that moment, we felt something. And what we realized is we know what language does when we speak someone's language, what it does to bind us, what it does to connect us. But what we often forgot what it does when we can’t speak that language, what it does to isolate, what it does to exclude. And I just want to hold on to that as we journey through our kind of walk of languages here. You see, languages with new words introduce new concepts into our minds that didn't exist before. Some people think language is about understanding the meaning of a word. I think language is about making a word meaningful for yourself.
Every language we have is a portal by which we can access another language. And it's something common that we all do. When we have any new concept in our lives, we kind of filter it through an already existing access of reality within us. And we, kind of, learn that concept through that. It's not just about new worlds, it's about new words, it's not just about things; it's about people. It's not just about seeing and hearing, it's about experiencing, sharing. How did that get in there? That's because if you guys laughed, you just spoke another language, one that needs no explanation and that's laughter. It's one of the most common languages that we have. That's why things like laughter, things like music, things like dance, they are so prevalent in every culture because they transcend explanation and they convey such a deep amount of meaning without saying anything.
And despite all these languages that we have covered, I still don't think we have covered one of the most profound languages there is, and that is the language of experience. And so for the sake of our research, I'm going to ask that you, kind of, participate one more time so we can demonstrate how powerful this language of experience is. I'm going to filter through some language. And the moment that you identify the language that I am speaking, because you have lived that experience or it resonates with you, I am going to ask that you silently stand. And, kind of, remain standing throughout the course of this exercise. Do you speak this language? When we heard the diagnosis, I asked, are you sure? And then we asked, has it spread? And then we asked, how long? And a series of questions would determine the course of someone's life. And for those of you that started to stand, just on those few indicators, immediately you knew that I was speaking the language of watching a loved one battle cancer. And any terminal illness is a derivative of that language.
Let me try another one. Please remain standing see if you recognize this language. Just imagine I got a phone in my hand. No, no, no; I'm with you. No, I'm listening. Right here. Yeah, no; I'm going to finish this up but I'm totally engaged, yeah. Or maybe this, I call this riding low when the phone is down here, you're driving, it's here. The passenger is freaking out, right? Or maybe last night many of you knew you should have been asleep but that blue light was just shining down on you and some of you dropped it right in your eye before. And for those of you that are standing, you, of course, know the language I am speaking, the language I like to call the language of disconnection. We often refer to it as the language of connection. But I think it's a language of disconnection. Disconnection from ourselves, from each other, from the place that we currently exist so we can be in another space.
For those of you that aren't standing, you must know what it's like to feel left out a little bit. You must know what it's like when everybody is, kind of, a part of something and you're not. You know what it's like speaking the language of being the minority. And now that I'm speaking your language, I'm going to ask that you stand as well. Because I believe that language of being the minority is one of the most important languages you can learn. Because often how we feel in that position of compromise, it determines how we act in that position of power.
And right now, all of you are in that position of power. And your position is as sacred as any doctoral or judicial code. And I thank you and my kids thank you and their kids thank you.
Thank you for participating. Go ahead and take a seat. I want to speak one last language. It's one you don't need to stand. I just want to see if you recognize it inside your hearts. Sometimes they say most the girls in the world are complaining about it. Most the poems in the world have been written about it. Most of the music on the radio is hitting about it, kicking about it, or ripping about it. Most of the versus in the game people spitting about it, most the songs in the world, people are talking about it. Most the broken hearts I know are walking without it. Have start to doubt it or lost without it. Most the shadows that are dark are forgotten about it. Everybody in the world would be tripping without it. Every boy and every girl would be dead without it. Struggle without it. Nothing without it. Most the fingers that are drunk are dialing about it. Most the pages that are filled are filled about it. The tears that are spilled are spilled about it. The people that have felt it are real about it. The life without it and you would be lost. When I'm in it and I feel it, I be shouting about it. Everybody in the whole world knowing about it. When I am hurt and broke down, I be flowing about it, going about it wrong because I didn't allow it. Can a wound or scar heal without it? Can't the way that you feel be concealed about it? Everybody has their own ideal about it, dream about it, appeal about it. So, what's the deal about it?
I'm just a writer. What can I reveal about it? Why is it that the most spoken about language in the world is the one we have the toughest time speaking? No matter how many books, how many seminars, how many life coaching sessions we go to, we just can't get enough of it. And I ask you now, has that language, when you thought in your mind, that question of how many languages you spoke at the beginning, has that number changed for you? And I challenge you, when you meet someone, to immediately ask yourself, what languages could we share? And if you don't come up with anything, I would ask yourself a second question. What languages can I learn from this person? And no matter how insignificant or how inconsequential that conversation may seem at that moment, I promise you, it will serve you in the future. I thank you guys so much for letting me be at your conference and inviting me. My name is Poet Ali. You have a beautiful conference.
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