man looking in a mirror at his self-conceptRecently, I have noticed more authors and writers choosing to put their name in lowercase letters (like bell hooks, or adrienne marie brown). I found it annoying and didn’t understand. I like rules of grammar and following rules – I think it gives me a sense of safety (well, that’s what rules and laws are for after all!). So why couldn’t they just follow the rules?!

But I wanted to understand. So I did some research which led me to explore the historical, political, ecological, and spiritual significance of capitalizing our self-prescribing pronoun, “I” (and why we might want to consider “i” instead).

As I did my search for “why do people not capitalize their name” on Google, I came upon danah michele boyd’s webpage on the subject. She had a lot of interesting and worthy reasons for changing her name into all lowercase that I hadn’t considered, because “I follow the rules”! I never questioned the concept. I still think it’s a lot easier to read someone’s name in a sentence if it is capitalized (I struggle reading articles about bell hooks for that reason).

While I strongly prefer names to be capitalized, I can now understand why someone wouldn’t – perhaps most importantly to de-emphasize the significance of who the author is and turn our attention more to their content (although, to be honest, I end up staring at their name over and over and trying to let the lowercase settle into my brain). It makes sense and I respect it after I reflected on their reasons.

Capitalizing “I”

But something that boyd said about “I”, our first-person, self-identifying pronoun, made me stop in my tracks.

Ever since i was a kid, i was told that the world does not revolve around me, yet our written culture is telling me something entirely different. Why not capitalize ‘we’ or ‘they’?…

And then a quote by journalist Sydney J. Harris that she interjected:

It’s odd, and a little unsettling, to reflect upon the fact that English is the only major language in which “I” is capitalized; in many other languages “You” is capitalized and the “i” is lower case.

The English language emphasizes “I” in a way no other major language does. It’s also fascinating that our first-person pronoun is only one letter. Even if not capitalized, it stands out among words – the only other single-letter word is a. So we reference ourselves with one simple sound, captured in written language by one simple letter, and we capitalize it.

Giving Importance to Self, the “I”

This has an impact on our psyche and consciousness. It gives high importance to “I”, the sense of self, every time we read it, even if we’re not aware of it.

Which is why my friend and healer/ceremonial leader, Denzal Santana, uses a different word but the same pronunciation: “Eye”.  He says:

I tend to use “Eye” (poetically) instead of “I” to place the ego aside, to stay humble, present, non-selfish, and acknowledging the all seeing God within, and without. 

Over the years, in the line of work/service we offer (i.e. mediation teacher, ceremonial leader etc) there have been many testimonials given, praises, and positive feedback, expressed to us, which can inflate the ego, (if a person is not aware/carfeful), tricking us to believe that it is “I” “me” that is doing  the work, “I” am special “I” am bad ass, etc, forgetting that it is God or a Higher Power working through our vessel/body temple doing the work to assist in the Uplift, of the human consciousness .

By shifting our sense of self to the Divine Eye, seeing and expressing through all of us, we perceive ourselves and all life differently. We see with sacred eyes the miracle of creation and the Divine within everyone and everything. “Eye” see with the larger perspective, rather than my myopic focus on the individual self.

The other interesting thing about the emphasis in our written language – and in our culture – on the capital “I” and individualism, is that it simultaneously creates separation. The “not-I”. 

By giving “I” prominence, we focus on our separation, our difference between the self and everything else. It is an outpicturing of the rampant sense of disconnection and loneliness that we experience in our very individualistic culture. Furthermore, “Not-I” has led to war, racism, genocide, and ecological destruction.

The “We” – Greening of the Self-Concept

Imagine if “We” were capitalized in the middle of a sentence instead of i? This shifts us out of individualistic focus to collective belonging. I could extend that “We” to all beings on the planet, not just human beings. This brings up the importance of ecopsychology and, as Joanna Macy calls it, the “Greening of the Self”. 

We are, in Joanna Macy’s words, “beyond that skin-encapsulated ego.” From the perspective of systems theory, the “self (“I”) is “inseparable from the web of relationships that sustain it.” This leads to the understanding that “there is no logical or scientific basis for construing one part of the experienced world as ‘me’ and the rest as ‘other’.” (World As Lover, World As Self, pp. 135, 136 and 139).

The Greening of the Self is expansion of the understanding of “I” to include All That Is. For we drink the waters from the glaciers and rains, we breathe the oxygen given to us by plant life, we eat those same plants or of the animals who have, we walk on the soil and grow our food in it. From this systems perspective, all that exists on our planet is related to us, our relatives. We are created from the same elements and living together in one ecosystem – and we might say greater consciousness – that we call the Earth.

As I sit with the word “I”, and all these perspectives on the prominence and impact of its capitalization in the English language, I’m uncertain whether I will change how I write it. But I am clear that there is a desire to transform my self-concept. To shift away from the cultural focus on “I, me, and mine”, and towards a collective consciousness that honors our interconnectedness and interdependence with others and all forms of life.

What about you? Share your thoughts here!


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