« In Memory of Judas | Main | Susan Boyle Once More »


nancy hitt

It's an interesting dilemma, Michael. My daughter the linguistic student informs me cheerfully that all language is violent based on the observation (not her own!)that a single spoken word destroys the integrity of what it represents by separating that thing out of the whole of an otherwise unbroken state. Add to that the fact that language never represents completely the object it refers to (hence the many words for the same/similar object that convey different shades of meaning)and we have a puzzling process. I'm not sure an undifferentiated "wholeness" is desireable...to me that sounds like chaos and a lack of life. The biblical image of God speaking and ordering the chaos into creation comes to mind. Is creation an act of violence? Perhaps, but I think not necessarily. To unequivocally perceive creation as violence would be to allow no constructive place for change. Perhaps Paul's argument about planting seeds and how the death of the seed is required for new life to grow makes sense here. I need to make a distinction between violence and creation. Violence posits an integrity that is destroyed without any redeeming life/feature. Creation certainly causes change in the integrity of a pre-existing structure, but it also results in new life. All of which is a very abstract way of saying that no matter what words we use, we change things. The question becomes, do we violate people/etc. with our words? To use the shorthand you identify most definitely makes boundaries and separations (this, not that) very clear. I don't think that's necessarily violent, but it may be. An added dimension of meaning has to do with other aspects of communication, everything from intention to tone of voice and context. Those who jump to perceive verbal violence where there is none intended bear a responsibility for helping to create the very thing they are criticizing. I do think we each have a responsibility to be as deliberately non-offensive as possible, and to use language that lines up with people's self-identified acceptable terms for themselves. However, it seems like a unique sort of satanic trap for us to form an amorphous crowd that allows for no speech at all lest we violate one another- and that's where it sometimes seems we're headed. Made in the image of God, we need to speak the word that creates instead of violates, and recognize that not all change and not all death are equal. Some are creative and we pronounce those "good". I say we speak with care, knowing we may unintentionally violate so that we may intentionally create new connections and new understandings. Otherwise, I think we are being seduced into silence and no creation- no life at all. That's a very long winded way of saying that being silenced by the accusation of verbal violence leads to death. All of which presupposes that we are not being intentionally violent and that we are willing to learn what effective communication is for the other- and use it as an act of love. Language may not be perfect, but it's way ahead of undifferentiated chaos. I say, keep on speaking up and out- in love. And I'm sorry for being so longwinded...hit an abstract nerve here!

John Mann


Sometimes in our effort
to make no offense
we just end up
removing the poetry.

The comments to this entry are closed.