Tuesday, 30 October 2018

The Power of words…Watch your language!

The Power of words…Watch your language!

We do many things with words. The book of James in the Bible says so. Chapter 5 of that book tells us how difficult the tongue is to tame. It says no one can control it. It can start a fire. It can be destructive and, I guess - what I want to talk about now - is that it even makes a person into a non-person.

When I visited Northern Ireland in the times that people refer to as, “the Troubles,” I noted, what was to me as an Englishman a strange use of words.  If you talked to Roman Catholic people, they all referred to non-Catholics as “Prods” (short for “Protestants”). In fact, talking to a Jewish man who had lived in the South of Ireland, he told me that he was often in danger at school of being beaten up. When I asked him why, he said, “They would ask me am I a Catholic or a Prod, and I would say, “Neither! I am Jewish!” to which they would reply, “But are you a Catholic Jew or a Prod Jew?” (My readers can pause her for laughter, surprise or PTSD. It is a very funny story that isn’t funny at all from another perspective. It is a true story.)

He did go on to say that he would then get blamed for killing Jesus. I asked him how he got out of that one when he was a school kid, to which he responded, “Oh that was easy. I told them it wasn’t us that did it, it was the Northern lot. For my non-British readers, Norther Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, Southern Ireland is an independent republic and my Jewish friend was living in the South of Ireland or Eire.

When talking to the Northern Irish people, that is the non-Catholics, I noted that they did not refer to the people of the south, or Northern Catholic people, as “Catholics” but always as “Papists”. What happens with this kind of language is difficult in that it suggests to activist’s mindset that when you kill the opposite to your tribe, you are not killing a person, but an animate “thing” called a “Prod,” or a “Papist.”

I note in the war effort, when reporting on bombs dropped, the often-used phrase is that, “There was some collateral damage.”  I looked up the meaning of the term. “’Collateral damage’ is damage to things that are incidental to the intended target. It is frequently used as a military term where it can refer to the incidental destruction of civilian property and/or non-combatant casualties.”

Or let’s put it another way: “Dead civilians. Dead people.” But, oh dear! That’s a bit harsh isn’t it? So, let’s tone it down. What this language is doing is de-humanising people. Tragically in our tribal times (Tribalism is the most powerful force in the world today...more powerful than the entire military might of America, China, Russia and the EU combined. Tribalism is the basis of all relationships, brands, families, communities and nations, but is also responsible for the darkest moments in human history, and for many political "revolutions”. Dr Patrick Dixon www.globalchange.com/why-trump-won-how-tribalism-will-dominate-the-future-of-democracy-and-why-president-trump-will-struggle-to-deliver.htm

we as a society are becoming more and more willing to de humanise people, which, when we have done that, the next step is that it allows us to, not care if they (those not of our tribe) drown, or if they are put in prison because they come to near our tribe, or even if we separate them from their families, i.e. take their children away.  In fact, it’s not so bad if we kill them because – well! To be straight - they are not of our tribe. For that reason, i.e.: they are not us, they are not to be considered as human. 
So, what are our current words of dehumanisation? We might use words like: “An Illegal.” “A Refugee.” “An Asylum Seeker”, or maybe even use a colour to describe some.  We avoid the words, “human”, “person”, or, “person in need”. In fact, any word that would give dignity is wilfully avoided, because if we did that, well, god forbid!  We might have to treat them differently.

I have noted that politicians sometimes refer to other groups of people as, “dogs,” “pigs”, “infestations,” and even “animals.” I even had a Face Book connection tell me that “Jews are Pigs, and should all be destroyed.” They of course were immediately blocked from my feed. However, as  VANN R. NEWKIRK II, staff writer at The Atlantic,  says: “Dehumanization is not just a buzzword, but a descriptor of a  “specific and well-known psychological and sociological process, by which people are conditioned to accept inflicting increasingly inhumane conditions and punishments on other people.” 

Cairine Reay Mackay Wilson (February 4, 1885 – March 3, 1962) was the first Canadian female senator. However, prior to standing, she had to get a change in Canadian law, because when she first applied, she discovered that she would not be allowed to stand, because by Canadian law, females were not persons! (http://adrianhawkes.co.uk/zeitgeist/)  I wonder if, in some places in the world, they yet are.  - “Persons” that is. It seems that what is done by men in some countries means that females are certainly not equal persons.

Recently in an African country a law was passed to give people (men) in polygamist marriages legal status that did not exist, even though for some the practice did. On asking some young men if that also gave the right for the woman to enter the same kind of marriage, (i.e. several male partners) the answer was, “Of course not!  That is for men! It would be unnatural for women!” Maybe they are not persons, or at least, a lesser one. From that conclusion, I guess therefore we do not need to treat them with the same respect?

Adrian Hawkes
Edited KL


  1. Richard T. Sandbach:
    Sticks and stones may break bones,but WORDS will kill you! Remember think before you answer---your WORDS will have power!

  2. Adrian Hawkes:
    In the UK the rhyme is but words will NEVER kill me. But right on words have great power...