Paulo Freire on ‘the Word’

Not sure why I’ve been thinking about this recently. This is the first few paragraphs of chapter three of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

we attempt to analyze dialogue as a human phenomenon, we discover
something which is the essence of dialogue itself: the word. But the
word is more than just an instrument which makes dialogue possible;
accordingly, we must seek its constitutive elements. Within the word we
find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction
that if one is sacrificed — even in part — the other immediately
suffers. There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis.
Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world.

unauthentic word, one which is unable to transform reality, results
when dichotomy is imposed upon its constitutive elements. When a word
is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically
suffers as well; and the word is changed into idle chatter, into
verbalism, into an alienated and alienating “blah.� It becomes an empty
word, one which cannot denounce the world, for denunciation is
impossible without a commitment to transform, and there is no
transformation without action.

On the other hand, if action is
emphasized exclusively to the detriment of reflection, the word is
converted into activism. The latter — action for action’s sake —
negates the true praxis and makes dialogue impossible. Either
dichotomy, by creating unauthentic forms of existence, creates also
unauthentic forms of thought which reinforce the original dichotomy.

existence cannot be silent nor can it be nourished by false words, but
only by true words, with which men and women transform the world. To
exist humanly is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world
in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a
new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in
work, in action-reflection.



Author: Rob Goodspeed