What's in a word?
November 16, 2018
For months now, through the course of the recently completed elections, I have been asking myself one basic question. Not who’s right or wrong. Not who’s better or worse. Not who will I support or fight. We all have our personal, predetermined answers to those. My question is this: what is a good word? I’ve written column after column calling attention to that very phrase. I’ve tried to use “good words,” and sometimes the words I’ve chosen have been what people might consider “bad words”—critical, argumentative, judgmental words. But the intent behind all these various words and subjects, from the personal to the public, the microscopic exploration to the universal exposé, has always been to attempt to improve, enlighten, and empower our small corner of the world.
Now we face two years of, if not a house divided, a nation and a Congress more divided than ever. And we must ask ourselves and our representatives, what do we want to hear from them? What do we want them to do? What can we hope for? What can we achieve?
Immigrant invasion. Voter suppression. Enemies of the people. Lies and half-truths and distortions. Socialists. Fascists. Racists. Misogynists. Terrorists. Fanatics. Evil empires. Demagogues and nationalists. Dictators and traitors. How many ways are there to negatively describe, to use words to tear down, break apart and make civil discourse, if not impossible, at the very least far more difficult than it needs to be?
There are times when a word that may be perceived as “bad” is simply the right word to use. Someone I know often says that there are no problems. There are only challenges. But sometimes a problem is just that—a problem that must be recognized for what it is and calls for a solution, not a challenge to be met head on and defeated. Likewise, hate speech can’t be ignored or pandered to or mollified and codified. It is what it is—mean and hateful and dispiriting, and must be acknowledged, fought directly, exposed to the light of day and thus rendered impotent.
In 2016 I listened to a report on National Public Radio about divided families getting together for Thanksgiving. Again and again people who didn’t want to deal with their bigoted, vocal relatives said that they would just keep their mouths shut or not attend at all. This year what I’ve heard has been entirely different. When someone uses hate-filled, bigoted words at the dinner table, people are being encouraged to confront them and let them know that kind of speech is not OK or acceptable or right. In and of itself, that is a change of infinite proportions.
Today our duly elected officials have a similar choice to make, as do we. They have to choose whether or not to listen, to use good words, positive words, words of compromise and understanding in an honest attempt to move our nation forward. And we have to decide whether or not to confront these same elected officials and tell them that’s what we expect of them—to treat one another like human beings with courtesy and respect, or to face the consequences of following a path laced with words meant to disrupt and destroy, to damage reputations and halt progress and sow seeds of hatred and discontent.
I have little hope that the outcome of our recent elections will make politicians’ choice of words any better, but I hope and pray nonetheless. I hope for open minds. I hope for compromise. I hope for words that build and create and bridge and reach, as opposed to those that break and dismantle and divide. Our leaders and representatives have two years to show us what good words mean and good actions can do. And while there are few signs pointing in these positive directions, we can all encourage one another to make it so with the simple act of insisting on a few good words.
And that’s the good word. Until next time, feel free to email the Heritage or connect with me at email@example.com.