The Futile Limitations of Language and the Power of Empathy

I’ve always felt language insufficient to precisely describe emotions due to the biological and cognitive limitations of the tongue and brain. The closest I could come to describing my feelings would be by ironically expressing how incapable I was of describing such emotion, not necessarily because I feel I lack the vocabulary or prose to, but because I felt it was fundamentally impossible to accomplish with language; a divide between emotion and cognition, cognition and tongue will always exist that is inevitable and impossible to remedy.

I was wrong. I had such a narrow definition of “language” that I neglected to explore the idea that language does not merely exclusively include written or spoken human language, but can manifest in a variety of other forms. This was an important revelation that came to me just last Friday as I was talking with my friend ΙΜ over some early morning coffee in Downtown Merced on an overcast spring morning, the morning rain slightly drizzling outside. I had been talking about my experiences finally connecting with someone, breaking down my hard exterior shell to show vulnerability, let someone else hurt me, and trusting with every ounce of strength in my body that they won’t, and they don’t. I described my frustration at being unable to adequately express my feelings for them because I felt it impossible to quantify, impossible to describe adequately with words, impossible at a fundamental level to communicate the exact intensity and magnitude of such emotion backed only by word.

What had prompted such a discussion in the first place was a newly relevant individual in my life who plays a significant, important role in the arc that I am going through: ΑΣ. What had been discussed was a scholarship essay I had written revolving around genuine human connection. I felt frustrated that the best way I could describe such a fundamentally unquantifiable but intensely powerful feeling was “healing,” which though meaningful, I felt was insufficient and didn’t do full justice. For someone with a lot of words, I felt frustrated that I could not jumble together the right permutation of words to describe my emotions. I felt frustrated by the limitations of language. I felt frustrated by being unable to fully express myself.

ΙΜ brought up an interesting idea: such a language already exists that can truly tell someone else that you understand. It’s empathy. Empathy is what connects our human experiences together. Empathy is how someone else can truly understand you. Empathy is how we can understand each other on a plane beyond what is possible and restricted by our physical biological manifestations in this cold universe. It’s an otherworldly, ethereal tether that links your sentience to another’s. It’s not just healing, but understanding and love and caring. It’s vulnerability.

There is no language barrier when it comes to empathy. You don’t need to both speak English or Spanish or any other fleshly construct of a language, or even coexist at the same point in time. Empathy is inherent to life. Empathy is the single universal constant that we can use to understand each other.

I’m going through a really important phase of my life right now. I’m learning to open up again. I’m learning to trust again, and feel, and be vulnerable, and show another soul the real me – the me that I hide from my family, my friends, my peers, my blog, my journal, the world, and myself, giving only brief glimpses at times but never truly letting anyone else fully peer over the wall until now. For all the pain I’ve been through, I’m finally healing. After everything that’s happened to me, after all my trauma and anxieties and hurt, I’m finally healing.

I’ll never forget sitting next to each other, our bodies touching, our arms intertwined behind us. In the biting cold of the crisp Merced spring air blessed by the moonlight above, kept warm by the safety of the inside in the dead silent and still of the night did we find ourselves sharing a moment of healing. I turned to look at her and saw her eyes behind her hair, deep in some sort of thought. At first I did not know what to do, and then I knew exactly what to do, and I followed my heart and put my arm around her as she put her arm around me and we held onto each other tightly. She pressed her face against my breast and I rested my face on top of her head, my skin pressed against her hair. No words needed to be said, because we were already saying so much…

…through empathy.

Happy trails.