Formation, Justice

Monday Meditation: On Bad Language

Yesterday’s community time focused on what we called “Just Language” or, language that does justice. The following excerpt talks about the possible harm that comes from “bad” or unjust language. Stay tuned for next week’s exploration of what might constitute good language.

“The question I’d like to bring to language, my own and everyone else’s, is the question of reductionism. Reductionism reigns when the words we use to give an account of people and events serve only to reduce, degrade, and devalue human beings in the interest of managing them, mischaracterizing our relationships with others to make them mean whatever we need them to mean to maintain our fragile ego structures. This is the perversity we employ–perhaps it employs us–when we reduce a person to a “just” (“so-and-so is just…”) or a “nothing but” (“you’re nothing but a …”), as if we’ve gotten to the bottom of all they are and ever will be.

Eye-rubbingly broad generalizations are leveled in our talk of other countries, personal histories, and the petty mortal who just cut us off in the flow of rush-hour traffic. These are the death sentences that generate a sort of verbal totalitarianism, closing up and cutting off real-live people. The words that fail to do justice to the irreducible complexity of whatever it is we think we’re talking about. It’s what we call bad language. Cursing words. The speech is dirty, if you like, because it deals in pseudo-reality, dimming an awareness of where we live, what we’re doing, and what we’re taking. It demeans and disfigures with a feeling of control as it takes a turn for the  contemptuous, DIS-membering experience in the telling.”
-David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (“Questioning our Language”)

In what ways do you reduce people with your language–intentionally or unintentionally? Where is more complexity needed in your conception of and speech about a person, group of people, or an event? How can you re-member instead of “dis-member” with your speech?

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