More Than Just Words

Have you seen the GEICO commercial with the man on the horse? He tells the girl that he’s a loner, so he’s got to be alone. Then, as he rides off into the sunset, he smacks into the “The End” sign. The moral of the story? Words can hurt us, sometimes physically.

I’m at a conference in St. Louis sponsored by the Constitutional Coalition. Every year at this conference (Educational Policy Conference) they have some of the most impressive speakers on a variety of subjects that relate to public education. The speakers are the most authoritative in their field. Some have founded companies, organizations, 501(c) (3)’s, radio programs and more. There are more degrees in the room than on a thermometer. If it is at all possible for you to attend this conference next year, then you should go out of your way to get here. You will not be disappointed. If you call yourself a political activist or even a concerned citizen, you should be here.

I’ve heard many speakers give presentations on numerous topics in my life. The jobs and positions that I’ve held have allowed me to hear from some of the most outstanding speakers in the nation. In past conferences, I’ve really enjoyed hearing from Rick Santorum, Allen West, Michele Bachman, and John Bolton. I was so impressed with Rick Santorum that I ended up campaigning for him when he ran for president!

Tonight our keynote speaker was Daniel Hannan. This may not be a name with which you are familiar. He’s a Member of the European Parliament representing Southeastern England. He was born in Peru and is fluent in Spanish and French as well as English. He is also very well educated. What I enjoyed most about him is how he took his subject, the effect of words and word usage, and made it so simple yet so profound. Let me share some of the highlights:

  • Deliberately using words to hurt people is not freedom of speech. The etymology of a word does not make the word intrinsically bad. It’s the intent that makes it bad.
  • When someone says they are offended, they really aren’t. If they were, they would be using much harsher language.
  • When enough people are arrested for exercising free speech, and enough headlines are printed on the issue, people will quit talking altogether out of fear.

Hannan shared that one of his children had recently finished the George Orwell novel 1984. In an appendix at the end of the book, Orwell (decades before this came to pass) wrote about words disappearing from our public narrative. He explained that there would one day be concepts about which we would not even be able to think because the vocabulary used to describe the concept would be removed from our language. Can you imagine not being able to think about the concept of “freedom” because you knew no words to describe it or weren’t taught the word “freedom” itself? How would you know if you were free?We have allowed this to happen incrementally. It has happened as we have accepted incorrect definitions of words in our discourse. For example:

  • “right-wing” now means “bad”
  • “diversity” occurs when people of different races and sexes all think the same way
  • “greed” means wanting to keep your own money
  • “need” wanting someone else’s money
  • “poverty” is when you get rich slower than someone else
  • “discrimination” is when you are mean to women or blacks

At some point we are going to have to stand up and, using the line from “The Princess Bride”, say, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” We must hold people accountable for the words they use when their usage is intentionally deceptive and derogatory.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Mary Byrne of MO explained that there was a difference in the words “diversity” and “multicultural.” Diversity allows for differences in a society. Multiculturalism indicates that there is no dominant culture, that all are equal. While that sounds sweet, take a deeper look at that. Diversity indicates that an immigrant from Italy (or anywhere else) can continue to eat Italian food. He can sing Italian music, love Italian art, and celebrate holidays with Italian traditions. Yet he will still assimilate to the American culture, speak the American language (in the name of Jesus, it is English!), and call himself an American. Multiculturalism says that his Italian heritage is more important than his position as an American citizen. While Dr. Byrne sees the difference in the two words, our American culture has changed because a new word was used to describe it and we did not notice it.

How many more words will we lose? What thoughts and concepts will we no longer be able to entertain when we lose the words that define them?

As he came to the end of his speech, Hannan asked us to consider all the details involved with getting a can of baked beans to the grocery store shelf and home in our cabinet. “Think about the tree that was used to make the paper label,” he began. Then there is the smelting used to make the metal can, the materials for the glue, the beans themselves, and the seasoning in the beans. But you also must remember the ancillary roles of developing the can of beans – there are the accountants, those who made lunch for the employees of all of these businesses, the factory owners, and the uniform providers for all the workers. Yet somehow this can of baked beans can be purchased for the amount of money that the average worker will earn in less than 7 minutes on the job.

“The World is not perishing from lack of wonders, it is perishing from lack of wonder.” (G.K. Chesterton)

If we allow the words we use to describe and define the wonders of the world, how will we think? When you change the words, you change the narrative. And when you change the narrative, you change the character of a people.

Temerity Dowell

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