On language, What is Exactly Being Said (and Could it Actually be Harming Us)

Effective communication is essential for living well with others. I am pretty sure I can get unanimous support and agreement on that one. One of the most important parts of communication is listening to other parties one is communicating with and understanding them. And I am not talking only about what is being said but, also what is being omitted and what is being said with non-verbal cues, and surely what is being implied though the words one chooses.

So why do I bring this up? Well, it helped me make an a huge change in myself and the way I relate to the world and illness specifically and most importantly, I can not envision getting to the “cancer-free” status without it. Or you know, a vitally important milestone, well worth sharing.

A while back a friend of mine said she needed to fix herself, just like many other friends have said before. But rather than ask her if she needed any help or how I could support this endeavor, I asked her if she thought she was broken. I got the squinty face when one looks at you quizzically as if you have perhaps lost your mind. But think about the word fix for a second. We fix chairs when one of their legs falls off. We call a wrecker for our cars when they won’t start in hopes a mechanic can fix it and keep it alive. And how many things when broken do we not even attempt to fix: think electronics which are easily replaced (just how many printers have you owned in the last decade?). She was not missing a limb nor was she in need of a wrecker, so just why did she need fixing? Why does anyone discuss themselves with a verb so tied to broken objects, things so many just toss out after declaring they are not even worth fixing?

In a round about way I said ‘what I hear you saying is that you want to improve yourself, improve your situation, be better, etc etc…’ And since our bodies are our homes, I took the home improvement metaphor and ran with it: ‘If our pipes freeze we fix them, but if we add a new coat of paint or a new stove we are only improving what is there. Apply that to the body, if we break a leg we fix it, but if we are working on an issue, say wanting to have more patience, we are not fixing anything, we are simply improving ourselves.’ It may sound like a tiny distinction, but none of us are broken. We need to care for ourselves, we don’t need fixing (like a record store where a certain Mojo Nixon does not work, which clearly could use some fixing).

We are all constantly evolving. Nothing is broken. We may just not be where we want to be, currently. This is not broken. This is an opportunity to do some work to get there, where one wants to be. Evolution does not just happen, it occurs through action and change. It needs catalysts: you and desire. Nothing abour this implies anything is broken.

Blah blah blah…. you can see the point I am getting at. Saying something like “I need to fix myself” implies a level brokenness at an innate level. This can not be good for one’s self confidence. In fact, this can not be good for the world – just by presenting yourself as broken allows others to see you this way, and relate to you this way. And since the world is not always full of shiny happy people, many of those will look to take advantage of this weakness. This breeds distrust of others and could easily lead to one saying, “I need to fix this, as well.”

I need to grow. I need to keep evolving. I need to become a better person. These phrases empower us to develop in a positive way.

Then I realized I was doing something equally destructive when I discussed how the body, my body in particular, related to disease. I was using words that implied so much more than good health and healing in describing how I was getting along with illnesses. So much more, but in the exact opposite way of being helpful. As I mentioned before, I was battling, rather than taking care of myself; I was fighting, rather than mending; a war was going on inside me, rather than healing. It is impossible not to think of Marshall Mcluhan here and his simple, yet transcendent, message: the medium is the message. The message thus is also the medium. So just what is communicated when one refers to one’s self as a battleground? If a war is actually going on inside you, even the winning side is bound to be quite the loser, as part of you is decimated when the other one “wins”. Gangrene may require the decimation and removal of a body part, but the act of healing never should.

I am loathe to ask why battle/war/violent/wtfever metaphors are used so often and what that says about our collective mindset: “I totally just kicked those dirty dishes’ ass!”, “I destroyed that salad!”, and so on. Yes, they are prevalent throughout all areas of our lives. They really should be avoided, especially when we are talking about getting better. Just how many times have you ever seen violence make any situation at all better?

And don’t even get me started on rape metaphors…. Can we all just agree to stop those outright? No doubt, occasionally ATM fees are excessive, but I have yet to hear of a cash machine physically and sexually assaulting someone. Not only does it decrease the impact the word rape should convey, it is beyond insulting to those who have been raped.

Could this all be a load of malarky? Sure, after all what power do words have? How often have words made you feel good? Or bad? If someone bared their teeth and screamed at you “YOU SCUM FUCKING FAGGOT”, would you be able to walk away smiling full of emotionally pleasing thoughts? And if someone came up to you and earnestly randomly complimented you, has this ever made your day worse?

So why chance it?

But once I started talking about healing myself rather than the war going on inside me (and I went so far to begin writing a major piece about Lupus in the blood stream, with white blood cells as characters — scouts before an invasion) things got easier to imagine the mending within. Sure, Russia and the west are “friends” now, but just how much damage did the cold war do to economies, to our psyches, to our world. I want nothing to do with emulating that or a more active hot war zone inside of me. When one is healing, one does not need something else to heal from and that is just what has to happen after a war, a battle, a skirmish, etc.

Words do have power. And it is important to use them in uplifting healing ways.

About Randy

I’m just a guy trying to out run his dying kidneys and live life as vibrantly as possible. Until I can’t.
I grew up in Tejas.
Went to school in Vermont.
And currently live in Brooklyn.
But not for long….

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One Response to On language, What is Exactly Being Said (and Could it Actually be Harming Us)

  1. erica says:

    exactly. words definitely do have the power to either heal or hurt. i might even argue that words can do more damage than actions themselves. the words others say about us and to us, and the words we say about ourselves to others and to ourselves make all the difference between feeling confident and able, and feeling incapable and demoralized.

    the old sticks and stones adage is complete bullshit.

    being aware of the language we use, including those of us who are prone to using black and white terms like “always” and “never” *points to self* is so, so important. if only we could always remember this in the heat of the moment with someone, or just all the time in general.

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