Words matter. Words can hurt people or make them happy, incite people or calm them down. Our words can damage reputations and relationships, or help in making them stronger. The words we choose can also have a bearing on how others see us.
Words can mean one thing at one point and then change, expand or even disappear over time. That brings us to now.
Civil debate. A courteous or polite discussion of a question by considering opposing arguments. When was the last time you had a “civil debate” with someone? You can seldom debate on social media since “civil” is rarely in evidence and you never know whether or not you are responding to a Russian bot.
Remember when “disagree” was a verb that fostered civil debate? Now it instantly results in name-calling.
Compromise. Yes, that used to be a word, a word that contains the word “promise.” Now the word has virtually the same meaning as the word “farce.” Recently I ignored my own rules and better judgment and foolishly engaged in a debate about guns. A friend had commented that guns were not the problem, that it was social, parental and mental health issues, I totally agreed with his concerns. I commented though that solving such issues would take time. Wouldn’t it make sense, I suggested, that while we work on such issues, we quickly enact some sensible gun control measures so we could save at least a few lives in the meantime? But even when you agree with Second Amendment zealots, they will not budge, will not take one step closer to you, in order to reach a middle ground. With them, it’s not the guns. End of story.
It used to be that we were Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals. Now we have words for everything around and in between. Progressives, socialists, left-leaning Republicans, right-leaning Democrats, alt-right, alt-left, just to name a few. Despite what we are labeled, though, we are all in this thing called America together, which makes it all the more imperative that we seek common ground.
We even look at the word “fear” differently. President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” He tried to tell he nation that fear makes things worse. But since his inauguration, Donald Trump has taken every opportunity to use fear as a tool to stoke the masses in order to cast himself as our savior.
At one time, the word “hypocrite” was a derogatory term used to call out someone who flip-flopped on an issue for some personal gain. Today, we are so used to witnessing hypocrisy on a daily basis, we no longer shake our heads in disbelief. Those who engage in hypocrisy know that. That’s why they can be so blatant about it.
A definition of the word “ethics” is “moral principles or practice.” But that meaning has been so brushed aside and ignored that the word itself has all but vanished into thin air.
“Truth” has become an alternative narrative. “Lies” have become the weapons of small minds, and the gloating and bragging that go along with it, once disdained characteristics, have now become applause lines. That’s how gullible we have become.
The bottom line is that we all are dangerously close to becoming zealots instead of rational thinkers, viewing lies as truth, hypocrisy as a way to win, compromise as impossible, civil discourse as a joke, disagreement as a license to demonize, committees as non-solutions, and fear as a weapon.
The perversion of words is not a new thing; it’s just a different time. The essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) wrote: “The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language. In due time, the fraud is manifest and words lose all power to stimulate the understanding or the affections.”
As for political language, English novelist and journalist George Orwell (1903-1950) wrote, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful ... and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”