Words are more than just emotional triggers. “Fascist” and “socialist” are not simply synonyms. When we use words simply to spark emotion without understanding or respect for their definitions, we erode civic capacity. When words are used with respect to their meanings and with the purpose of conveying a critical point of difference, we invite thinking and build comprehension and understanding. In order to bridge differences we need to be able to use the language and thinking skills required for difficult dialogues. Without these skills our attempts at dialogue will likely prove unsuccessful, possibly even degenerating into simple bickering.
If we are truly interested in building civic capacity, we need to think about the way we use words. In our American Values Are…® discussion guides we talk about definitions because words are extremely powerful and dictionaries very precise about what vocabulary they use in their definitions. Furthermore, it is important to respond when words are misused because misuse creates a flaw in the foundation needed for both trust and sound analysis.
We invite your thoughts on what we can we do to bridge the gap between the collective thinking skills we have and those we need to participate effectively, and any other thoughts you have on why words matter.
October 13, 2009 at 4:17 pm
We have to be alert to the fact that different communities (racial, religious, ethnic) have their own vocabularies. They use different words or different expressions, or in some cases a certain word or term has different meanings to different groups, or may indicate disrespect when that is not intended. We have to let other people express themselves in their own way, and we have to be alert to how other people may react to what we say.