As we talk with family members, fellow employees — and in the political arena — what have we learned about “how we use words and, more importantly, how words use us?”
This is critical in our private and public pronouncements, emails and social media. Making wrong choices can trigger problems at all levels.
This problem is addressed by two respected sources. Following the counsel of each can provide positive outcomes for us all.
The first source is the science of general semantics — its principles and best practices.
Many of us remember Dr. Gerald Haslam locally (and nationally) who advocated these principles alongside Dr. S. I. Hayakawa while both were professors at San Francisco State. Hayakawa became that university’s president and ultimately US Senator from California. They also worked together on the General Semantics quarterly journal appropriately titled, “Etc.”
Examples are evident in all communications but are nowhere more prevalent than in political discourse. Most pervasive is name calling. For example:
• “Racist” – the most common epithet
• “Semi-Fascist" – a new one
• “Homophobes of the Supreme Court” – wow!
Others include “bigot, extremist, conspiracy theorist, — and many more — plus recent attacks on our local congressman, Kevin McCarthy, as deceitful, dishonest, secretive, untrustworthy and more — all examples of political epithets typically without any evidence or examples nor critiques of substance.
Semanticists call these “snarl words” — as opposed to “purr words.” Snarl words are principally used in political commentary — usually without evidence to substantiate their validity.
Another principle is that of a “Two-Valued Orientation” — in which every issue is viewed in only “black or white” without consideration of “middle ground” alternatives.
Recent political examples are:
• Totally closed borders or borders that are wide open;
• Medicare for all or only accessible through private insurance; and
• Abortion at any stage or never.
Such examples are clearly counter-productive and non-negotiable — plus devoid of qualities our Founders envisioned and demonstrated to create unity, harmony, and peace.
The second source is the Holy Bible. For example:
• Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips. At the beginning their words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness …. (Ecclesiastes 10: 12-13.)
Another missing element in too many instances — not all, of course — is simply telling the truth. Here’s more biblical counsel:
• Tell the truth to each other. Render verdicts in your courts that are just and that lead to peace. Zechariah 8:16.
Still another outcome needed is humility — a core value especially tough to demonstrate in politics. For example:
• Don’t think little of yourself; think of yourself little. (Romans 12:3 as rephrased by C. S. Lewis)
What will these do for us? They will provide the above critical outcomes: unity, harmony, and peace!
So, HOW can we make these good outcomes happen?
An excellent response has been proposed that includes multiple action steps. In organizational management, we work with “Action Plans” — “one-pagers” that tell us HOW to accomplish WHAT a goal describes.
In that context, here’s how such biblical “Action Plan” would look:
Goal: Create unity, harmony, and peace in our nation, state, community and families.
• Select words with great care. Angry words damage. Words to promote peace and harmony should be the focus.
• Speak the truth.
• Pick battles that matter.
• Cut out words that tear us down. Replace with words that build us up.
• Know how to forgive as it is the means to reconciliation.
• Cultivate humility. Don’t think little of oneself; think of oneself little.
• Get to know people and their gifts, especially gifts you don’t have — yet need. Then, work together in common missions to make matters that divide us become smaller.
Now the challenge for each of us is to assure our actions coincide with these principles and action steps in our various personal and organizational communications. You’ll be well rewarded — and so will our country, community, and families — with unity, harmony, and peace.
John Pryor is a local management consultant and long-time student of both general semantics and the Holy Bible.