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Speaking Security

In 1977 Daniel Everett trekked to the jungles of the Amazon to spread the message of Christianity. Because of his gift for languages, Everett was dispatched to convert the Pirahã, a hunter-gatherer tribe living on the banks of Brazil’s Maici River. Notoriously resistant to outside influence, the Pirahã had baffled both missionaries and linguists for decades. Everett told the Pirahã about Jesus, but the lesson ended abruptly when the tribe learned that Everett had not witnessed the events he was relaying. Laughing, the Pirahã explained that they believe only in things they have seen and will tolerate only stories about events that were directly experienced by the storyteller.

Everett stayed with the Pirahã for 30 years, eventually abandoning his faith as he learned more about their culture and language. He has written about his discoveries in several books, including Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, the title of which comes from a common way the Pirahã say goodnight. Over the years, Everett discovered that the Pirahã have no perfect tense, no words for or concept of numbers, and only a few names for colors. Their language, in short, is too simple to work in almost any society.

Yet the language is incredibly functional for the Pirahã, who communicate specific ideas with exceptional clarity. For example, their words can be whistled, allowing hunters to communicate complex ideas while hunting.

Everett’s research is controversial among linguists, but no one disputes that the Pirahã’s language is supremely well-suited to their environment, and the words they have developed perfectly reflect their culture.

The same is true of experts who speak a specific language. They not only share terms and phrases—the shortcuts to the concepts of a profession—but also the underpinnings of those ideas. Security professionals, for example, speak to each other in ways that outsiders cannot, such as about the concept of risk. Those in the industry bring a common understanding to the conversation—a shared way of seeing the world.

This is why our new editorial direction at Security Management will include a greater contribution by security professionals. As you’ll see, all of the features in this month’s issue were written by industry experts. In a type of partnership we hope to foster, we combined the expertise of security practitioners with the skills of our talented magazine staff to present articles on diverse and compelling topics.

We encourage members of ASIS International and other interested professionals to contribute to the magazine by writing a story, offering ideas about topics and trends, or volunteering to be an expert source on a specific security issue. Contact me directly or reach out to any member of our editorial staff. Tell your story. Speak the language of security to your peers. As the Pirahã have shown, we will all be the richer for it.