Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Use of language as tacit approval.....

This past weekend, I had an interesting conversation with a phone acquaintance. We got to talking about how we all have many beliefs, most of them good and caring, most of them show the innate goodness in all of us.

We all care. I don't doubt this. In all my years of life, I can't say I've ever met anyone who just doesn't care.

We care about the environment. We care about poverty. We care about homelessness. We care about the exploitation of third world countries. We care about health care. All of these things matter.

Some of us are in the trenches, doing what we can. Some of us are what used to be called limousine liberals.

My position on this is that the language we use and the beliefs we support with the things we say is just as much an issue of Right Speech as anything else. What we say matters as much as what we do because certain ways of speaking perpetuate and contribute to the mindset that allows all of these conditions to continue.

One of the examples I cited during our conversation was a simple phrase. "Rule of thumb". How many times do people say this in a week?

The origin of that phrase is from an old law that specifies that a man can beat his wife as long as he uses nothing thicker than his thumb.

Is that the kind of thing anyone wants to be supporting?

A lot of slang feeds into the mindset of scarcity, competition, power-over and consumerism. By using that kind of language, we are creating a oneness with those who support those things. It is group speak and it supports a certain set of values.

I would suggest (for all of us) paying attention for just one day to the values and concepts we support with our tongues.

Think about it. Really.


Anonymous said...

WOW! Such a simple thing really yet so hard to stop doing. Personally of all the phrases I say, rule of thumb isn't one of them. Of course I just never knew what the rule was so I never thought to commit to it. Thankfully.

Janet said...

Thanks for the reminder to think before speaking.

MsLittlePea said...

This is true. I had heard about that before. I imagine there are many phrases and slang words that, if we knew derivation of, we wouldn't be so quick to use.

Cardozo said...

One such phrase that struck me powerfully as a young adult was "getting gypped" or "jipped."

Maybe this isn't so common in other places, but in my hometown in southern california it was commonly used to refer to the misfortune of being cheated out of something.

As a Jew I was always extremely sensitive to the phrase "don't jew me," not realizing that all the while I was engaging in a parallel slur.

Catherine said...

Yes yes yes yes yes!!! I have been saying this for ages, thank you!!! I once worked for an organization that was very "white male" but didn't realize it. I kept advocating for change, and they would claim to be all for it, but would scorn me when I pointed out their language. It has to start there, I think....

Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking and important post! My wheels are spinning already. What do you think about groups of people who have been exploited in one way or another taking ownership of a derogatory or slang term and using it in a way that to them connotes positive vibes? Such as "fag" or the "N word"?

Anonymous said...

I'm certain I am guilty on many counts (and a hypocrite as well, having washed my daughter's mouth out with soap for using the F-word, which she doubtless learned from me), but I try not be blatantly politically incorrect. It was an uphill battle, as I was raised by two very biased people.

Molly said...

Food for thought....A miracle happened! I got on here on my first click!

painted maypole said...

great point. i have often pointed out to people the words they use "gay," "lame," "retarded," as being derogatory. I knew the origin of "rule of thumb" but never thought of it in the same light. Thanks for turning the light on!

Anonymous said...

I agree we need to watch our language for unintended harm- but it appears you can use "rule of thumb" if you want to: LINK

What gores my ox is when somebody says something they intend to be hurtful and demeaning, then follow it up with "I guess I'm not 'politically correct.' Ha ha!" They think that by using that phrase they are magically transformed from insensitive clods into Fearless Defenders of Free Speech. They are wrong.

slouching mom said...

How about "white lie"? That one has always bothered me -- the white lie being more acceptable...

jen said...

there are so many common phrases that are unfair in origin. it requires mindfulness, relentless mindfulness, something I am guilty of not possessing as much as i should.

mitzh said...

Oh the power of words and how at times we never really think before we speak.

Thanks for a wonderful reminder, Chani.

Jan said...

Thanks for reminding me. . . .and others, of course. How do we live??

flutter said...

Where does intent come into play?

Snoskred said...

I'm not so sure. I think part of it is about interpretation too. I might say we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

I know this one woman who works with my other half who gets so offended with the things people say for absolutely no good reason. She will pick apart their words until she can find a "spin" that she can put onto it, and then turn it into a big, negative deal. I've spoken about her on the blog before, I call her Negative Nelly.

I control my reactions to the language people use - that is the only thing I can do. If someone says something which is deliberately intended to offend me - or even something thoughtless which they never meant to offend anyone - it is my choice how I react to that. I used to get all stressed up over these things, until I realise the big clock in the sky is ticking - and we have a limited amount of time here - and wasting one millisecond of it on being offended by words seems so silly to me these days.

It is just like the whole breastfeeding thing. The people who are so uptight and offended about it, they need to get real about life. They need to have their perspective challenged. The clock is ticking on your life, and they want to worry about whether a mother is breastfeeding? Maybe they should worry about going out and doing something good for someone else instead. Does that make any sense?

These days people would find it pretty hard to offend me. Unless they are a politician. Then, their mere presence could offend me. The election has just been called here and last night I saw my first election ad - on my *pay* tv. Where I *pay* not to have ads! Well, that's what I used to think because they have slowly been sneaking them in there without me noticing and now I have spotted a lot more of them.

It was a 30 second ad. I want those 30 seconds of my life back. :(

The majority of the politicians here are not worth as much as one second - they are all in it for the perks and the big salaries. There's a few who genuinely care about people, but they are rare.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

There are many words in our culture that imply that white is superior to black: white lie, as stated by Slouching Mom, white knight, "how white of you," black hearted, blackguard, "blacken someone's name," and of course, the words of William Blake in his poem, "The Little Black Boy"which includes the line, "I am black but oh, my soul is white."

One way to practice mindful speech is to avoid all cliches.

thailandchani said...

Hetha, I think thoughts and words that carry bad energy can not be coopted, even by the target group.

If someone gets the real sense that words do carry energy, as the saying goes "words are things", it would be more automatic to consider the power behind the things we all say.


Thomas, yes.. that is just rationalizing bad behavior.


SM and Susan, that is a perfect example actually. It perpetuates a *value system* by use of language.. even more than my example or the "n" word or any of those other things that can be dismissed because of the PC argument.


Flutter, if I pull out of a parking place and hit your car, your car is still damaged ~ even though I didn't intend to do it.

My own opinion is that once we've been made aware of something, we become accountable.


Snos, I agree that people shouldn't become too invested in constantly looking for something to feel slighted about. My actual intent here was to address use of language as a social engineering tool, as a way of perpetuating a negative value system.




niobe said...

I'm still thinking about this post. I agree that words are a powerful force that can be used for good purposes or for bad. But so many words can be used in so many different ways. Some are pretty clearly always (or almost always) wrong and hurtful. But for many, many others, what's crucial is context, tone, interpretation -- things external to the words themselves.

crazymumma said...

amazing what things really mean. How many meanings they might have. But the beauty of language is its constantly evolving state.

I always thought the rule of thumb was a statement of measure, but for building or drawing. Incredible.