In 2015, Robin Wall Kimmerer – Professor of Environmental Biology and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation – wrote of the need to change how we speak of the natural world to create kinship. As she accurately points out, our use of “it” to describe any being, strips that being of identity and in turn, value. When we speak of a tree or animal as “it,” we do not see that tree or animal as a being equal to ourselves.
Language shapes how we view the world. The words, and in this case the pronouns we use, make a difference. Kimmerer argues that in changing the way we address the natural world, we take an important step towards sustainability, and away from extinction. She poses the question, “Might the path to sustainability be marked by grammar?”
In Anishinaabe, Kimmerer’s native language, Bemasdiziiaaki is the word that best describes all “beings of the living Earth.” Recognizing that this long and difficult to pronounce word will never find its way into our language, Kimmerer suggests that we adopt only the last syllable, “ki.” She further suggests that we adopt the plural, “kin.”
The Naturally Conscious Community draws on our individual and collective relationship with the natural world. Together we learn how nature reflects ourselves back to us. We recognize the valuable lessons contained within the natural world and we are of course, focused on taking the necessary steps away from extinction, towards sustainability.
The adoption of “ki” and “kin” as pronouns when we speak of our plant friends and the other beings in the natural world, seems an obvious step in our own growth towards becoming the Naturally Conscious individuals we strive to be.
The words seem strange at first but as with everything else, practice transforms the strangeness into familiarity. We can practice saying “Ki is beautiful,” instead of “That tree is beautiful.” We can say “Ki’s fragrance is enchanting,” instead of “It smells great,” when referring to the scent of our favorite flower. In time, we wonder how we ever used the word “it” to describe beings with whom we feel such a close kinship.
Through this practice, we chart a journey of transforming the language that defines the natural world around us, and in turn, ourselves.
If you are open to Kimmerer’s suggestions, do let me know how you incorporate “ki” and “kin” into your language. Do you find it easy or awkward at first? I am curious to learn if and how it helps your own plant reawakening!
Creating Kinship one word at a time
Nandini has captured beautiful why we strive to create a language of inclusion and plant awareness in the Naturally Conscious Community. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right every time, each of us is learning.
Personally, I use ki and kin in place of he/him/her/she. For the possessive, I find it easier to use their, occasionally using kiself/kinself or ki’s and kin’s. Experiment with which works best for you and let us know your results. This is a topic of great interest here.
You may also see me use the term kin-home when referring to the plant world. Although there are some legacy pieces that still use kingdom, I find the term incomplete, and at times disrespectful, of the kinship we have with plants. Kin-home feels much more aligned with the sentiment Kimmerer introduces about creating connection and sustainability through language.
Play with the words, adjusting them to match your evolving beliefs and values. Let’s create a whole new vocabulary to represent our plant reawakening in kinship.
As Erin McKean states in her 2014 TED talk, Go ahead, make up new words!, “You should make words because every word is a chance to express your idea and get your meaning across. And new words grab people’s attention. They get people to focus on what you’re saying and that gives you a better chance to get your meaning across.”
Only together can we create a lexicon of kinship that more accurately represents our growing awareness of the plant kin-home. Show us what you come up with!!
And always remember…. Resist the Urge to Hold Back Your Evolving Green Brilliance.