Our character is defined by our words
Different cultures have different languages. Subcultures have different dialects. This is as much true for social tribes as it is for race. You can tell which part of England a person is from by their use of local words. Just as, in social tribes, you can tell how they view the world by the words they use. In fact, we are often attracted to (or repelled from) people by their language.
Language is one of the very strong ties that bind us together…
As a Logophile (lover of words) I am also intrigued by language and its use. Be it solely communication, or when people use words to exert power over others. Because unlike that old saying “Sticks and Stones may hurt my bones, words will never harm me”; words are very capable of being used to harm others. Both in content and delivery. But also, that very subtle use – or non-use, where people refuse to use the language or titles that others request.
I am bewildered by why people find it so hard to respect how people would like to be addressed. What difference does it make to you? Be it gender, race, personal choice. It is not about the you. It is about respecting the other person.
Power play 101.
I realise we are living in a time of social change. And any change is difficult, and people cling to the familiar. But you actually do yourself no service by digging your heels in… Again, how does it affect you – if I want to be known as Christine, Chris, Chrissie or potentially even Christopher? (For the record, I prefer Chris or Chrissie or one of the many other nicknames I have with specific people). But that is my right. Just as it is your right to decide how you are to be addressed or referred to. And surely how you want to be known is your basic human right – not for others to decide?
There is a person in my circle who has declared they will only ever refer to transgender people by their birth name and gender… “because anything else is a lie, and I pride myself on the truth”. Well, there are way worse sins out there than lying. They display their character here – not the character of anyone who they insult or disregard. Bullying, cloaked in morality.
We have an ongoing debate in NZ of the encouragement and inclusion of Te Reo (The Language – Māori). It is being promoted and its use by all NZers is increasing. As it should. In days gone by, Te Reo was banned. Children corporally punished for using it at school. Just think about that. Punished, for using your birth tongue in your own country.
The debate is of course not about language at all. It is a screen for casual racism and continued power over indigenous people. The people objecting, cite they don’t understand – well learn – some words. They cite confusion on the world stage – I have only ever found people overseas curious about the Te Reo I use. It is a beautiful language and I find it a privilege to be learning it. Interestingly it is one of only 2 official languages in NZ. The other is Sign Language. English is the customary language, but not an official language.
Free speech is bandied around a lot at the moment. Mainly from people who feel their freedoms are being curtailed. But there is a difference between legal and social freedom. Most countries have freedom of expression. We all know the countries around the world where there is limited freedom of expression/speech. We all know the consequences in those places for people who are brave enough to speak up and out.
Stark consequences. This is why I get so angry when I hear people who live in freer countries bemoan a lack of freedom of speech. Generally, they are crying it, because they have suddenly found that other people around them are no longer prepared to listen, unquestioningly to whatever their “opinion” is. They DO have freedom of expression; what they DON’T have is freedom of consequence. We are all entitled to our opinions. I have mine, you have yours. And I can respect that you have an opinion, without having to respect that opinion.
Respect – another interesting concept. In days gone by, Positions in life attracted respect. Leaders, doctors, lawyers, clergy, older family members… the list goes on. And for most of these people, the respect may have been warranted. But in the cases it was – it was most probably earned by their actions and character. Growing up in the 70s, we were encouraged to show respect to our elders as well as people in the positions on that list. But as I grew up, I realised that some of those people did not deserve my respect. They proved to be dishonest; flawed in character; cruel; mean; bullies….. So, I look to respect people oh how they live. I have more respect for the person cleaning the mall, than I might have for the owner of the mall – rich, powerful, and potentially dishonest. This isn’t an anti-rich insight. I know many people of means who live good lives. Are good people. Who’s lives are lived to support others. Who use language to include and who strive to understand the lives of people they meet.
We choose how we speak; what words we use; acknowledging how those words are received. If I cause offense, I will apologise and reflect. I may not agree. But I don’t have to. My words, my responsibility. If I am offended I can choose to say something or choose to remain silent. But I will make a judgement about the person who offended.
And comedy, comedy is not a get out of jail free card to be offensive. “can’t you take a joke?” is code for “I don’t care if my words hurt you, get over it”. As a person who was bullied as a child for my accent (which was very English when we arrived in NZ), my appearance (fat jokes anyone?); sporting inability… I find comedy based on other people’s appearance or race or gender or capabilities offensive. I do understand that that might put me in a minority. And that’s ok. My choice. So, I choose to not engage in viewing popular comedians who’s work I don’t like. My choice. But I will call out friends if I find their jokes offensive – and we can agree to disagree.
Personally, I have been watching my language and reteaching myself for a while now. Of course, I lash out angrily at times – saintliness has not yet arrived within me, lol. But most of the time I think about my words. Writing has helped that process.. editing as I write trains my brain to mostly edit as I speak… I try not to engage with trolls, or people I disagree with. I am unlikely to change their views and they are unlikely to change mine.
In RL I have found as I have progressed with my recovery and healed some of my self-esteem issues, I have found my Voice. It has been a bit disconcerting to some. I haven’t actually changed my opinions about life very much, but I am less willing to remain silent. I don’t pick fights. But I am less inclined to remain silent. Especially when I see people using words to harm others…
In Recovery I have changed the language I use about myself. eliminating negative self talk where I can. And I have tried to eliminate “always and never” from my vocab when talking to myself …”things will always be like this, they will never get better”- is not true. Recovery has given me tools to sit out the bad stuff and always know the good stuff is on the horizon… And when talking with others I find “always and never” too precise. Who knows where life will take us, making set in stone promises are a dangerous precedent. Nothing is forever.
So, my love of words, which has always been with me; is now shaping how I view the world…
Precise language matters.
Ko te kai a te Rangatira he kōrero
The food of the Chiefs is dialogue