Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Words: Love-Hate Every-Day Relationship

Words are wondrous things – it’s amazing we managed, and are continuing to manage, to create such a variety of ways to express ourselves.  Miraculous, even. 

However…with this power comes the grey area of interpretation and that’s where it all begins to break down.

We encounter this simultaneous power and weakness every day – though often it isn’t particularly obvious; but when we meet the extremes, or try to truly communicate with someone…we see the extravagantly impressive and pitiful nature of these small marks on paper, or virtual space, and the effect they have upon us in our every day lives.

I’m not going to talk about big, sweeping speeches, and words that changed the world – most of those are there for everyone to see, to criticize, to love.  I’m going to talk about our personal, every day experiences.

The experiences that can lead to so much confusion.

The power is in what words can do to us – our emotional, not to mention physical, reactions to what someone says to us.

And immediately I come to the first problem, hiding in that previous sentence – physical vs. emotional.  A lot of people often do not see the connection between emotions and physical reactions; which, considering how we act in physical, sexual relations with others, is strange, since there at least the link between our emotions and physical reactions is blindingly obvious.

Your partner says something that you feel insults you – and you physically turn away from them, curl up, ignore them, push their hands away.

Your partner says something that makes you feel loved – so happy that you nearly tear up; and then you jump them.

Words are the medium for our emotions – through them we learn how to describe what we are feeling, and also how to feel what we have been taught to describe. 

Words can bring you to the brink – can cause all kinds of terrible physical pain from headaches to vomiting to actual serious illnesses, the psychosomatic end result of the stress that the words of others can cause. (there are also, of course, violent extremes that can be reached because of this – but those are not so much, I hope, mundane, every day experiences…)  Or they can bring you extreme pleasure, sexual or otherwise, and enrich the quality of your life.

The inherent flaw of language, however, is present in the two reactions I described above: feeling insulted requires interpretation, as does something that makes you feel happy.  It is very possible that, if the same things were said in both instances, two different people could have completely opposite reactions.

And so we reach the second problem, which is made of two parts – the weakness of words, the hidden Achilles heel that is often realized too late: Definition.

Contrary to what we are taught to believe, not everyone gets their definitions from the dictionary; and this is Part Two: Assumption.

Because we are, generally speaking, selfish and self-centered creatures, we assume that most others think the way that we do – especially if we want to establish a connection with someone.  And we think in words, and these words can be vastly dissimilar, have nearly contradicting definitions, depending on who is using them.  It can differ because of gender, age, translation, upbringing, neighbourhood – the variations are endless.

Words are flexible, wonderful, glorious things – the impact these tiny scratches on stones, pieces of paper, even on bathroom walls, can have is…immense and awesome (in the original sense of the word; see?).

So the next time someone says “I assumed” – stop them there.  Get them to explain to you exactly what their definition is of whatever words they’re using; and only then can we return to the more positive power of words, and what we would truly like them to be used for: Communication.

“Language is a strange thing, but she’s my mistress.” – Stephen Fry

And though she frustrates the hell out of me, and sometimes I can barely understand her, I will love my mistress till my dying day.