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.”

(10) comments

Mickey7

With a president that refers to others as SOB's letters attempt to paint a broad brush is hilarious. An ignorant bully in the white house has created the discourse of today!

veritas

A noble but, in the final analysis, I’ll fated attempt to promote more reasoned and civi discourse. As if to demonstrate the difficulty of the challenge to avoid reflexively engaging I name calling, Ms Weller succumbs to the temptation of labeling a large segment of society as Second Amendment zealots. Unfortunately, characteristics such as zealotry and hypocrisy are in the eye of the beholder. As Ms Weller points out so articulately, the quality of today’s civil discourse is lamentable. She also demonstrates, unwittingly, that improving it is exceedingly difficult.

jsklinelga

veritas
Civil discourse:"Civil discourse is engagement in discourse (conversation) intended to enhance understanding." I understand your position but maybe the suggested method should be to debate the term in question and not the politics or "the temptation of labeling" by the speaker.

Are people who want to protect the freedom to own guns, in which some are wary of national registration, paranoid control freaks or zealots? This group includes many of our societies best citizens. They are not haters. They are not evil doers. The vast majority would shudder at the thought of actually having to kill someone. A police officer or solider is trained in weaponry but how many live to kill? Hopefully just the opposite. But what would happen tomorrow if China, or Russia or some nefarious entity hacked our electric grid in such a sophisticated manner that electricity would be cut off for millions for weeks and months. Chaos would ensue. Who would be the most protected? What would happen if our intelligence agencies continually subverted our government and the confiscation of guns were ordered. As we see from the last election that is not far fetched. Maybe the people who believe in the premise of the Second Amendment are not zealots but understand the reasoning behind the Second Amendment. it is a way to ensure our freedoms and the ability to protect our families. Also understanding this maybe we could find middle ground to quell "unlawful" gun violence.

phydeaux994

[offtopic]You want to be able to protect your family from a Russian invasion or a Government effort to confiscate your guns or some other irrational scenario that you fear. In the event that something like that happens at some unknown time, which is unlikely in the foreseeable future. I and most Americans want to protect our families from the ever growing onslaught of gone violence caused by the relentless flow of anonymous guns, more and more military style weapons designed to kill many people very fast. Maybe we need another Amendment to guarantee us protection from the gun manufacturers and the gun lobby who fight every attempt to regulate weapons that are killing our children NOW,

jsklinelga

phydeaux994
I do not believe it is off topic. You have your viewpoint and I was just expressing an opposing viewpoint. The purpose of a discussion.I stand somewhat in the middle. Hopefully most Americans do. One way to protect our children now would be to not bury the story of what happened in St. Mary's County yesterday. It was an effective response. I would think most parents would feel a level of comfort if a trained officer was protecting the schools.

veritas

Yo, “jsk,” you’re preaching to the choir. I don’t own a gun, nor do I intend ever to acquire one, but I agree with you completely. Guess my first post was a bit obtuse. My bad.

jsklinelga

Ms. Weller,
Outstanding column. Surprisingly I saw a discussion in the comment section the other day where the typical hyperbolic mudslingers actually engaged in civil discourse. It was not only refreshing but informative. The wide gaps of division were not really that wide. Far too often the perpetual name calling affects not only the understanding of differences on the current topic but they create a barrier against civil discourse on any future subject. Once someone sees a name of someone of opposing views a negative trigger engages and people seek to find disagreement. That truly limits civil discourse and potential compromise.

Now, for the sake of civil discourse, I must comment on one portion of your otherwise stellar column. You portray President Trump as the man who utilizes fear as a weapon but completely ignore the Democratic platform of rear that helped .elect Trump. If you were a Trump supporter you were consistently labeled alt right, homophobic, xenophobic, racists, fascist, NRA loving, Christian zealot,trampler of the poor and down trodden.and Putin lover. It just may be if the DNC had followed your advice they may have captured the election. Anyway, excellent column.

tonyc51

[thumbup]

DickD

Interesting, Jim and I know you are religious, so please tell me how someone like you can support a person that calls names, is a bully and appears to have sold out the nation to Russia? I do say appear because until Mueller's report we will not know for sure and if he fires Mueller I really don't know what will happen.

If Mueller gets fired, will the Republicans step up and impeach Trump? I think not and that will engage and energize the Democrats even more than now. Now if and that is a big if, the Democrats win, you know there will be all kinds of investigations and then impeachment becomes likely.

jsklinelga

DickD
I find your comment a bit startling. You may have not noticed but most of the name calling comes from the Democrats. As far as Russia how in the world would you say President Trump sold out to Russia.That baffles me. But I do think the Mueller investigation has greatly harmed this country. There are increased calls for a second Independent Council to investigate the investigation. I hope so. Question: If you had a cadre of highly paid attorneys with the full force of the Government behind them investigating you, How would you fare?

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