Monday, August 16, 2010

What Do You Mean By That?

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Unfortunately we are close to fools' fates, closer than we think. And one of the biggest dangers to our survival is what it has always been, the felonious use of language, the written word but more importantly the spoken word. How people speak influences either consciously or subconsciously the way people think, and most people don't notice it.

"We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately" Benjamin Franklin.

During the Revolution hanging was a common form of execution but no simple matter. Most Americans don't realize how extremely dangerous it was for our founders. If we had lost that war they would have faced terrible deaths.

Even as the conflict was going on many people lost their lives at the end of a rope. There was almost no falling through a trap door and breaking your neck. People were simply strung up and left to struggle until they died. It took some hardier sorts 3 days to die, jumping up to grab a breath in a futile effort to stay alive. Thus the phrase "dancin' at the end of a rope" came to be. Fortunately for the United States the founders did "hang together."

Today the battle is with words. Lately, one of the nastiest uses of language is something called "implicature," a seemingly simple remark with another, sometimes, hidden meaning. "He's Italian and therefore he's very musical." Are there any Italians who are not musical? Of course there are.

A few episodes ago I wrote about my colleague in Connecticut who was sincerely struggling with his racism and who referred to a man he had recently met as "black but nice." He was in effect saying that all or most black people are not nice. I had to talk him out of that verbiage. He wasn't even aware of how prejudiced a remark it was. And that's the problem with implicature.

"The Liberals have got it wrong again" is a vicious remark which says that all Liberals are always wrong and always have been. No one can make that claim. History proves it wrong.

Or how about "Even though he's a Conservative he's very smart."? Meaning all or most other Conservatives are stupid. History proves that one wrong also.

Now we have "He's a Muslim therefore he must be a terrorist sympathizer."

How are we ever going to live together as brothers with this sort of unjust and egregious language? How can we hang together if we can't acknowledge an individual's right to be who he genuinely is? How can we avoid the fool's fate if we keep speaking foolishness?

Beware of implicatures. They will fool you if you don't listen carefully to the fast talking fabulists.

DB - The Vagabond
(This is not a contest.)

Who are the 2 (two) most important people alive today? Why?

Only 6 responses so far.

Thank you.


Valerie said...

I appreciate this post, Dana, thank you. Val =)

Ally Lifewithally said...

You always give me a lot to think about ~ Ally x

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

I almost always pause before I speak, because words are something that cannot be taken back once spoken.