Sunday, January 13, 2019

Words make the difference

Joyce Sasse -
Words, and how we use them, form the basis of our understanding. But what if we use inappropriate words?

A current example is apparent in how we speak about the moon. Many have called the side-of-the-moon that always faces away from the earth “the dark side”. But now a Chinese lunar spaceship has landed there and is sending brightly lit moonscape pictures back to earth. Might we now more aptly speak about “the-other-side-of-the-moon’? Does that change of wording make a difference to your understanding about the properties of the moon?

Years ago my Korean Language School class was totally stumped with one assigned translation. The story was of the local police trying to solve a murder, but we couldn’t make the grammar tell us who was “in the fog”. Eventually our teacher explained about Oriental thinking, and how a correct understanding could be found if we allowed for the police to save-face. For Orientals it was the victim who was shrouded in “the fog”, therefore the Police couldn’t view the forensic details.

We oldsters grew up with the belief that it was OK to play “Cowboys and Indians”, that Africa was a “Dark Continent”, and that God was “Our Father”!

But when I heard a friend use “Cowboy” in reference to a character with an undesirable image, I rebelled. When I started working with Aboriginal colleagues whose insights overflowed with wisdom and compassion, I needed to hear more. And I could no longer use the term “Dark Continent” after I met scholars and scientists at University who spoke with pride about their African heritage.

There were all sorts of uncomfortable giggles when Don Harron, in presenting “Charlie Farquharson’s Old Testament Lantern Show”, chose to have a woman deliver words as “the voice of God”. Many Nativity Scenes now include the newest baby girl or boy (or both) … regardless their ethnic background!

Since Rick Hansen showed us the difference, we now expect “barrier-free facilities” for those with walkers and wheelchairs, and applaud the Paralympics and Invictus Games. We have unisexual bathrooms in our public buildings … and political leaders are starting to understand the significance of the “Me Too Movement”.

Words, and the understandings that accompany these words, really can make a difference!

Editor's note:  The Don Harron skit Joyce refers to seems to be unavailable, so here I present two other clips of the inimitable Charlie Farquharson, a true Canadian original, instead.

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