“without knowing Words, it is impossible to know men” — The Analects of Confucius.
As human beings, we developed language to be able to express the truth, at least as we understood it. By truth, I mean both facts themselves, and ideas or thoughts that helped the individual or, more especially, the society. Not — in regard to ancient, tribal society — just that bull over there, but what would be needed to hunt and kill it for food.
Yet, the more sophisticated we have become, the more we have been able to use words to fool people, and, indeed, the more we have come to be fooled by them — willingly fooled, I believe.
One thing I noticed early on when writing on the net was that a certain type of person would always deliberately misinterpret what was being said, and would then criticize the article based on their misinterpretation. I say they deliberately did this because they were clearly intelligent enough to be able, like the other readers, to understand what was being said.
The simple fact of the matter is that a certain type of person feels good about being wrong. Anyone can point out the facts, but when we argue for the opposite we feel that we’re smarter. This is especially true in the area of politics. Most people know when they are shamelessly slandering an entire group, dismissing reasonable concerns as “fascism” or “communism,” just as they do when they are posting memes claiming that Bush or Obama, for example, are the new Hitler. To distort the facts makes us feel that we’re committed to a higher, more profound truth that escapes the masses or the “ordinary” people. If we claim that day is night, we are special.
The media, of course, provides the Left and RIght with the language the follower can use. “Admit,” instead of “acknowledge” — he “even admits that…” followed by a stream of lies and half truths. “Claims” rather than “said” — she “claims that she wasn’t there,” etc. It os a phrase designed to cast doubt on the character, with the implication that she is a liar as well as whatever ese she may have been unfairly accused of.
Then there are the words that seem to have dissappeared from our language. “Proportion,” for example. Proportion is the basis of justice. If some steals a loaf of bread and receives ten years in prison, we say that is unjust — and it is unjust because it is out of proportion. Likewise, if you do all the work, but someone else is rewarded, that, too, is unjust, because the reward, and lack thereof, is out of proportion.
Yet, how often are the responses of those on the Left or Right in proportion (even those who call endlessly for “justice”)? How often do we even hear the word “proportion”? A tiny remark by a perceived foe is responded to with slander and lies, while far worse by a percieved ally is overlooked.
If we can understand the misuse of some words and the disappearance of others (especially those mentioned above) we will understand society, its motivations, our motivations, the tricks the media and “elite” (which is usually no more than a cabal of largely myopic, insular, and talentless individuals) plays on us, and those we play on ourselves, a whole lot better.
There is a notion of spiritual warfare, i.e., that the warrior is attacking the foe that represents the qualities that he subdues within himself — the unjust, the lazy, the devious, the untrustworthy, etc. Rhis may exist, or may have existed. Yet, when we look around at those attacking others — especially within politics, and often allegedly for the purest of reasons — we can see how such behavior unleashes all sorts of demons within the attacker himself. He intentionally misunderstands what is said or done so he can laugh and scream when there is nothing to mock. He misuses words to degrade others, but, in the process, degrades himself. He presents himself as someone with understanding but talks in cliches and soundbites. He forgets words and forgets what makes us noble.
Listen to how the media, the “elite,” the political classes, perhaps your enemy, or the enemy of others, even your allies, misuse words, and, with delight and a sense of purpose, mischaracterize those they disagrees with. Take note of how they delights in being wrong. Then listen to yourself as you speak, and ask if you are not doing the same. Endeavor to speak truthfully. Try to get to the point where you see complexity, especially the complexity that neither the Left of Right sees. Remember proportion. In this way we can begin to understand what psychological forces are tugging at us, trying to drag us down to become what we are not. We can begin to remember who we are, and can fight back, not with lies, but by speaking with balance, regaining, as we do, balance in our emotions and our way of being.
2 thoughts on “Daily Meditation: The Words We Use Against Us”
Much truth here. The ideas of proportion, honest dialogue, and desire for correct understanding have been missing from our discourse for a long time, and our society as a whole has become intellectually poorer because of it.
It leaves us with a question I’ve been struggling with for a while now: how do you reach somebody who’s so deeply indoctrinated (Left OR RIght) to believe such wrong understandings? Or until they’re ready to come out of that shell, can they even be reached at all?
An extremely insightful and thought provoking comment!