I am old. I make my living with words, with teaching them, writing them, editing them when written by others, and in trying to transform the most harmful of them into a better process between people. I have seen a great deal of linguistic evolution, and there are days when I confess I just have to laugh. We humans are simply excellent at redirecting our worst impulses into a new light of approbation via language manipulation.
I hosted an evening with an upcoming author and researcher a few years ago. I fit 18 people into my living room to hear her present her research and the findings that were the heart of her brilliant new scholarly book.
A friend I invited took it upon himself to bring along someone I had not invited. I kind of knocked myself out preparing fancy appetizers, including some very pricey Washington organic cherries, select Irish and Swiss cheeses, etc. The guest I didn’t invite lingered and eventually said to me, “I’d be happy to offer to take the remaining items as rescue food.”
Rescue food. Seriously. “Um, no thanks,” I replied, “I’ll manage.” It wasn’t as if I had steam table pans full of untouched food that should really go to feed street people (I’ve actually done this when organizing larger conferences, and it’s a sensible practice). In this case, it was as if I should give my food to someone who came uninvited into my home. Yeah, no.
Let us beware of language evolving in ways that permit distortion and manipulation. Let us watch ourselves so we don’t cloak hurtful and humiliating statements in the garb of being woke. Let us please focus on calling in others instead of calling them out.
In this era of climate chaos overlaid with great communication challenges, I’d propose that, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humility.” Please, let us use our speech well and our listening even better. Our future, the future of our young ones, especially as many are now predicting a second U.S. civil war, literally depends on this.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is director of PeaceVoice and a founder of Whitefeather Peace Community in Portland, Oregon.