Sarah Federman, PhD
I am a scholar and practitioner helping individuals and groups re-craft their stories about their conflicts, themselves, and each other.
The result is that participants become authors of their own lives. We all have to resist the pull of becoming soap opera stars when life shows up differently than we expect.
Why consider the Language of Conflict?
How we describe other people, ourselves, and our problems impacts whether we start a war or even end a relationship. Therefore, paying attention to language is vital. This blog provides examples of language being used in ways that exacerbate or find new ways of dealing with the tensions in our world. My consulting work and workshops show clients how seemingly subtle shifts can transform our experience.
Video on Narrative & Conflict
More Background on Language & Conflict
Plato wanted us to consider that a world existed beyond our cultural understanding of it. In other words, he believed in a world independent of the words we use to describe it. For him, words simply referred to one another without necessarily corresponding to any objective truth or reality.
Whether or not Plato is correct about this objective world, the way we describe our own experiences and desires has a very real impact on the world in which we find ourselves. Rather than erase culture as Plato might like us to do, I work with the cultural constructions and their metaphors to lead people to new understandings and new ways of inhabiting their lives.
I take the position, along with Levinas and others, that what we consider significant (material or immaterial) derives from the language we impose upon it. Simply said, through language we make meaning. The meaning we ascribe to events and the identities we impose upon others impact how we interact with them and ultimately how we solve problems -- or do not.
You know from experience that the words used to describe the Other (be that your ex-spouse or neighboring nation) has a very real impact on the kinds of solutions that emerge. If, for example, you call someone a "terrorist," this limits the kind of approaches you might consider. Torture, for example, might seem a legitimate approach with someone so dangerous as a "terrorist." Remember that Vichy France called French Resistants, during World War II, "terrorists." Eventually those French "terrorists" were called heroes. In Indonesia and Cambodia in the 1960s-70s, being labeled or not labeled a "communist" led to almost certain death.
I want to make visible some of these taken for granted ways in which we articulate our world and the problems within it. For example, if you kill someone it is called "murder" -- if the government kills someone it is considered simply a "casualty" of a troubled world. Is there a difference? How do our word choices lull us into feel or not feeling a certain way about killing people?
Using Language to Change Our Lives
Considering language means looking beyond labels and word choice, it means considering how we construct our stories about world. This requires greater reflexivity and responsibility. Rather than changing our stories about the world to reflect the pure world Plato believes exist, we can change our story to help create the world as we want it to be.
Words can shift our material experience. Surely you know examples in your own life when your words worsened a situation and times when your language improved a troublesome dynamic.
Business Executive Experience
Almost a decade as a business executive serving Fortune 500 and media companies around the world (over 10 countries), presenting at the headquarters of companies such as Google, The Economist, The New York Times, Time Warner, NFL, Viacom, and YAHOO. Worked in business development, construction of international alliances, and global strategy with senior board members. Advanced skills in social media marketing and brand-building.
Work conducted in French, English and Spanish.
New York Times, RFI (French radio), Canal+ (French television) and Seventeen.
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