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The Ignorance of Buzzwords

June 20, 2016

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Words are amazing things. They can make us cry or laugh, make us happy or sad, make friends or enemies. George Carlin did a standup routine on the word stuff which is hilarious. One of Robin Williams’ best comic routines was the one about golf, a true four letter word. One of the worst movies ever made was called simply Gravity.

Single words can create action. Tell a well trained dog to sit, or stay, or shake and you will see it on its haunches, or frozen in place, or extending a front paw. Yell “Quiet” in a crowded room and watch everyone go still, or “Fire” and watch them panic.

The problem with some words is that we assign meanings to them that are not based on facts. Our reaction to some words are based on bias or misunderstanding. What we think they mean, which often is a meaning without thought behind it.

Homeless is a good example. Say that word to ten people and you will likely get five different interpretations. Sadly, the majority will say it means drug addicts or alcoholics or mentally ill. Here is a different thought, anyone who does not have at least six months income in the bank is potentially homeless. While there are those that are drug addicts, alcoholics, or mentally ill, the buzz word homeless does not define all.

When it comes to helping the homeless, however defined, and there is talk of a shelter in a neighborhood, the words that bring fear and trembling are “property values.” The NIMBYs pull that one out every time to provoke a reaction of support to stop any thought of a shelter near them.  Having been involved in setting up a homeless shelter in a residential area, I know this is a bogus argument, but fear can cloud the truth.

The gun debate is another heated issue that gets confused by buzz words. Mention gun control and the cry of “protect the second amendment, we have the right to bear arms”, goes up. Funny that the words “well regulated milita” get lost in that debate. Any talk of gun control becomes, “they want to take our guns away”. No one wants to listen to the words, “no they don’t”.

For a land settled and built by immigrants, it is almost comical that immigrant has become a negative buzz word. Add Syrian to that description and suddenly the word means terrorist. These words have the ability to create hate and fear so quickly, rational thought or discussion is almost impossible. Unfortunately, words are being used to build a wall causing division when we should be addressing our common humanity. Muslim becomes synonymous with ISIS, which is about as ignorant as saying all Christians are like the group from Westboro Baptist Church.

The terms liberal and conservative have become so mired in misunderstanding they are tossed about without any thought. The labels are so easy to use, thus ending any further conversation. He is liberal, so you can ignore what is being said.  She is conservative, so she must hate everybody. These two terms are misused, abused, and overused. I love the irony that Jesus was the liberal who wanted to feed the poor and condemned the conservative Pharisees.

Buzzwords have become labels. If we can put a label on something or someone then we can put it in a box, put it on a shelf, and then there is no need to dig deeper.  Therein lies the problem.  In a society so used to quick answers, we have forgotten how to look for the truth.

As long as we rely on buzzwords – prejudice, hatred, and ignorance will continue to divide us.

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