Communication 101: He Who Controls the Language, The importance of Words

Posted: November 11, 2015 in Speaking ministry, Thoughts on art ministry and life
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I’ve heard it said on many occasions, “Words Mean Things.” It’s 100 percent true. I’ve also heard it said that “He who controls the language controls the argument,” which may be even more true. In our politically correct era, this has been taken to ridiculous heights. People are such skillful wordsmiths today that they can paint people into verbal corners, putting them out of the conversation with words that condemn, destroy or marginalize. As people who communicate, and especially as those who are called to “speak the truth in love,” it is important that we understand this. These tactics may be a way to win arguments, but it is no way to convince people or to convert people to your side of the discussion. Let’s look at a few of these.

Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice: I use this example first because it is probably the most illustrative of the problem. When the two sides of this hot-button issue were trying to play nice, these were the terms they used. Unfortunately, as it is with most hot-button issues, discourse fails quickly and with it goes our ability to play nice. As a person who is pro-life, I bristle when people call my position “anti-choice.” I’m not anti-choice, I can tell you about a multitude of choices that would keep people out of the clinics altogether. Aside from that, I am not hateful or judgmental and I am a firm believer in showing people love and grace. Given the choice, I simply want to see people choose life for an unborn child. When we change the language, we make our opponent a villain. Here’s how it works. If I were to call someone who disagrees with me (and we pro-lifers have played this game too and it is also wrong) anti-life or pro-death, it would be equally objectionable and unfair.

Anti-intellectuallism: This is one of those words I hear thrown about more and more, especially in church circles. Think about what this word really says. To be anti-intellectual could be said to be pro-stupidity, but that doesn’t sound enlightened. Essentially what the person who uses this word is saying is anyone who disagrees with my supposition is against reason and thought. This is not the case, especially with regard to the Scripture. Those of us who take a more literal view of God’s Word, simply grow suspicious when people seem to be attempting to remove the divinity and the miraculous from the Word of the One who is both divine and miraculous. I love to explore the meaning of Scripture. I just start to draw a line when exegesis starts to feel like “exit Jesus.” It doesn’t mean I’m anti-intellectual, it means I disagree with your interpretation.

Tolerance vs. Intolerance: This one of the grand-daddy of them all. I would say that the redefinition of the words tolerance and intolerance, is diabolical, but that would be violating my own principle. Instead I will say this, making the word intolerance equivalent to hate is just plain wrong and a violation of the language itself. Tolerance used to mean we could disagree, maybe even disagree vehemently, and still have some respect for each other, maybe even to be friends. Today tolerance requires me to be in total agreement with you on every point of your life and anything less than total agreement is intolerant, which is now a synonym for hate. That borders on totalitarian and is the very (actual) definition of intolerance. I can disagree with you without hating you and if you can’t reciprocate, I’m not the one with the problem. Disagreement can be a catalyst to understanding, but that implies a degree of (actual) tolerance and having a rational discussion. Anything less than this builds walls which cannot be torn down and chasms which cannot be crossed.

These are just a few of the multitude of examples. Basically, it all boils down to this: If your argument belittles or vilifies your opponent, if you think you have backed your opponent into a corner with words that make him look bad, stupid, hateful or worse, congratulations, you have won the battle.

Unfortunately, you have lost the war.

This ain’t chess, it’s life.

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