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Feed Two Birds with One Scone

By Micah

In our exploration of conflict resilience at GWI, we talk about language – the power of it, and the practices that can help us be more intentional, caring, and effective, using non-violent communication. Violence is built into so many aspects of our society, and language is no exception. Violence is, of course, to be found in our movies and TV shows, and video games. Those are so obvious that they didn’t really need mentioning. It shows up when we curse each other while driving, or in line at the checkout. Even more insidious, it shows up in how we speak to our loved ones or ourselves. It seems to just slip by, in so much of our everyday language. When examined, our sayings and clichés reveal the extent of it. 

Kill two birds with one stone. This was maybe the first one we called out for ourselves at GWI. Why exactly are we trying to kill not only one but two birds? The origin of this phrase only reveals more problems, as it appears to date back to the story of Daedalus and Icarus from Greek mythology. “Kill two birds with one stone” was found as early as 1656, written by Thomas Hobbes: “T. H. thinks to kill two birds with one stone, and satisfieth two Arguments with one answer, whereas in truth he satisfieth neither.” So, it once had meaning as a cautionary tale, warning that the attempt to do too much results in failure, as opposed to its modern meaning of pursuing efficiency. Brent Beshore wrote an article about this phenomenon titled How ‘Killing Two Birds With One Stone’ Kills Us and Our Work. But really, why the violence? I can speak of the benefit of maximum output without referencing death at all, without the assault on nature. My colleague Susan offered us this particular alternative: Feed two birds with one scone. Same meaning really, just not violent.

Shooting fish in a barrel. Certainly there are easier ways to say something is easy. When push comes to shove. Bite the bullet. Bring out the big guns. Boots on the ground. There is more than one way to skin a cat. The violence simply isn’t necessary. There is in fact more than one way to pet a cat. And I don’t have to Take a stab at it, when I can just Give it a shot (just kidding). I don’t have to actually shoot it or stab it, it’s easy enough to just give it a try. I also don’t need to capture your ideas, or my ideas. Let’s not capture that thought as though it’s a feral animal needing to be tamed, or someone to imprison, it’s enough to just document it. 

Here are a few more, bullet-pointed for you, or rather, just listed:

  • The straw that broke the camel’s back
  • Twist your arm
  • Went in with guns blazin’
  • Jumped the gun
  • Straight shooter
  • Rally the troops
  • Pick your battles
  • Armed with the facts
  • Leading the charge
  • At the end of my rope
  • Bang for your buck
  • Beat you to the punch
  • Locked and loaded
  • Set your sights on the prize
  • Need more ammunition
  • Hit the target
  • Beat a dead horse
  • Put over a barrel (what is it with barrels?)

The language of a culture is revealing. What it chooses to give a word to, or not, says something about what that culture values and recognizes. Our culture has chosen violence as a means of expressing brief ideas that we so easily use in our everyday lives. Seems to me as though we are gunning for trouble. The decision to be non-violent starts with mindfulness. An honest, brutally honest (why can’t we say courageously honest or wholeheartedly honest instead?) examination of what is. How am I showing up? What language am I using? That’s a good place to start. 

Does this exploration seem pointless to you? These are just turns of phrase after all. When we say roll with the punches, we know that we literally aren’t asking someone to just take a few punches and that our intent isn’t necessarily violent at all. 
But our language shapes us, it molds what we can conceive of, how we relate to the world, and is a system that we have been indoctrinated into. There is a freedom to be found when we break from thoseshackles and choose what words we use to express ourselves. We don’t have to take the beaten path, and I agree old habits do die hard, but liberation seems to me less about fighting for change and more about changing my ways of being.

Articles and personal reflections from the GWI team as they navigate their lives and their shared work.

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