Words have become worn out in America. Over the past two years I’ve put forth my best wordsmith effort to address what has been going on politically and socially, because I care about my country. I’ve forged sentences, often with constructive criticism, sometimes with compassion, and occasionally with (what I thought were) clever comments. As far as I can tell, I have succeeded at irritating and angering people by using words they associate with “the other side.” I have also managed to silence people who are afraid to express public support for my words, because they don’t want to offend someone who clings to different words. But, I don’t think my words have succeeded at swinging the pendulum of public opinion.
I have accomplished adding significantly to the mountain of words sitting in the middle of my country. Though the rhetoric tossed around in the U.S. the last couple of years has grown into a mountain range that divides us, the alarming force of tribalism has effectively eroded the meaning of the words we sling. It seems that it does not matter for many of my fellow Americans what is said, but who is saying it. If someone is enamored enough with their tribe, whatever comes out of their leader or another tribe member’s mouth simply doesn’t seem to matter anymore. A leader in this country could sound like an adult on a Charlie Brown cartoon—“wa wa waah”—and faithful followers would cheer, even if what was said was indecipherable. (That was honestly meant to be rhetorical.)
Ironically, in the process of language erosion, some new, trite languages have emerged. There are some people for whom their word choice used via conversation, Facebook posts, or ALL CAPS tweeting instantly conveys who their leader is—and whether they’re trying to make America great again or if they’re trying to prove that they’re “woke.” The language used by these people is meaningless to me and I give them an ‘F’ for cognitive effort, because their words have simply been copied and pasted from their leader.
Some days, I feel that I’m the only person in America who truly appreciates the significance of language. I tend to take words literally and give great consideration to the context in which they’re stated. I even find meaning in the spaces between the words. Writing is my craft and I see stories in every conversation. The language someone uses creates a character sketch about their personal history, their preferences, and what they would do if placed in certain scenes. I regard language usage as a character’s fingerprint; it defines who they are. When many people start regurgitating language to the point where their word use is identical, there is no longer any defining character to be found. Meaning is lost among the verbal fingerprint smudge that tribes collectively form.
It’s time for a new language in America—one that hasn’t been overused, inflicted pain, or is owned by a particular tribe. We need a language that transcends partisanship and the fear to express support for what we believe in. We need a new language that elevates all of us. I wish I could conclude this by saying: Let’s all strive to aim higher with the words we use, so that we can rise above the mountain that divides us. But I know those words have become meaningless because that’s exactly what someone from the human decency tribe would say.
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© 2018 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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