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Thursday, February 7, 2013

On Thinking Before We Speak, Or Forgetting What Our Words Actually Mean.

I've been thinking a lot about words lately.

I've found myself hesitating to describe things as I used to, less likely to throw out colloquialisms with comfort and ease. I struggle more to find the most succinct way to describe what how I'm feeling or what I'm thinking or whatever it is that I'm trying to express because lately, lately I just haven't been able to shake the gravity of language and what the words really mean when you stop and think about it.

It started after Newtown. Like a switch, I couldn't say that I was "dying" because something was incredibly funny to me. It felt disrespectful, shameful, to do so, because no, in no way was I losing my life due to an internet meme. I could not shake the images, however conjured by my own imagination, of those children and teachers being gunned down and no, no, I am so very fortunate to be the exact opposite of dying, to be able to wake up every day and breathe and live and love and create and follow my dreams and raise my kids and herd my cats and experience everything this world has to offer me, moment to moment and there are families out there who will never be able to have that back, again.

Nothing is so funny that it hurts me, never mind would end my life. I do not covet a worldly possession so much that I would physically cease to exist if I do not own it. That's just not realistic, nor is it really reasonable.

I used to throw kill out a lot, too. From saying I'd kill to do or have something to, in anger however without any merit, saying I would harm another person if they trespassed against whatever trivial line I drew in the sand, I actually surprised myself with how often I referenced ending someone else for my own passing benefit.

It makes my stomach turn to think about it, in all honesty. Because in no way do I think I am capable of flippantly embarking on mid-level sociopathy over the things I say I would. Sure, I'll give that comes with the caveat of being a mother and if intentional harm was brought to my children, or in a moment to defend them I had to make such a weighty choice I have no doubt I would do what it took to protect my children, but aside from that -- I mean, I get squeamish when I have to squish a bug. There's no earthly way I could just take someone's life.

It feels insane that we so easily say it, though.

When you really stop and think about how much violence pervades our culture -- specifically our entertainment culture -- it's truly disturbing. A point was made that so very often we are party to the faux murder by gunshots, but rarely are we faced with the true outcome of such actions. It's fine if it's all special effects and blood packs and CGI and prosthesis and "not real" -- but people flip out to see an actual real person who was actually really killed by gunfire on television. Remember when Kurt Cobain shot himself, how the news outlets were considered scandalous and sensationalistic for showing the long-lens photos of his feet lifelessly askance in their Chuck Taylors, nothing above his calf visible? Gasp, guard your eyes, how dare you show that on the nightly news, my kids are watching.

While the Xbox whirls in the background, the latest Call of Duty on pause for after homework is done.

I am shaken by the lack of regard that our society gives to the reality of our culture of violence and the true ramifications of ending another person's life. And this ties in greatly to my feelings on gun control, because they are instruments made with the precise intention of killing, of ending life, and doing so with as little effort or emotional forethought of the person who holds it. Because of the way our culture presents guns as nearly a non-issue and the minimal preparation it takes to own one in most places, it frightens me.

You have to go through roughly eight years of intense training to be considered legally qualified to save someone's life. Here in Ohio, conceal and carry permits require only 12 hours of class to grant someone the ability to end someone's life pretty much as they deem fit, according to their personal feelings of threat and violence, fueled societally by the cavernous disconnect between snap judgements, hot tempers, and what really happens on the other end when you pull the trigger.

But I'm going to leave that for another time.

Today on Twitter I saw another aspect of this conversation spoke of by a sociologist I greatly admire, not in small part because reading her site reminds me that I am smart and I learned things that truly interested me once upon a time. She spoke of the way we equate words of sexualization (most of them four letter, if you will) with dregradation and violence and how they are used as weapons of hate, not at all different from the hate speech from the Civil Rights movement or, more recently, the gay rights movement. You should give it a read, it's really jarring without sounding overly scholarly or preachy. It's just an observation of something we, as a society, never stop to question.

We should.

We should because I remember as a pre-teen the first time I said something was retarded around a mom to a special needs kid and what her face looked like, a visceral reaction I now am all too familiar with when it comes to my own son. We should because I remember having a role model in my younger life explain why saying something was gay was so hurtful to so many people, people you may not even realize you are hurting when you say that, and the look on his face begging me to comprehend, to rise above the all too accepted common verbiage of my peers. We should because I remember what it felt like, what it feels like, to have words that describe me in a degrading way used without question or reservation in my presence both with and without the intention of actually trying to hurt me.

We should because it's not about political correctness, but about awareness and comprehension of there being an entire world that exists far beyond yourself and your personal sphere and to recognized that and honor that is one of the greatest gifts you can actually bestow upon yourself and your surroundings because with that ability to recognize that this life, it actually isn't just about you, but about everyone and everything, well, it's a sure path to fostering empathy and patience and understanding and forgiveness, and as crunchy as it sounds, an inner peace.

At least that's what it's done for me.

Basically, I think the language we use in passing without consequence despite the actual words being imbued with monumental meaning and consequence can be boiled down to something I remember hearing often as a child: Think before you speak.

Think before you speak.

And then think about how you speak those thoughts and try to do better, because you can always express yourself better. That's the beauty of the language we speak -- it can always be better than commonplace.