In the beginning, there was the Word…

Zampieri_St_John_Evangelist

Another excerpt from my upcoming book:

Words in their various guises have been thought to be the primal force of humanity for thousands of years:

“In the beginning, there was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”  (Gospel of John, 1:1)

“The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” ( Genesis 11:6)

“And He taught Adam all the names…And (remember) when We said to the angels: “Prostrate yourselves before Adam.”(Quran 2:31)

In essence, words create a reality of their own; they set the context to which all will act within. Think about how “freedom-fighter”(eg Mandela) sounds compared to “terrorist” (eg Mandela), or how “entrepreneur” sounds  compared to “wheeler-dealer”. Who decides which of the pair is used sets the tone of any subsequent discussion. 

Even the same word may mean different things to different people. In Europe, “liberal” is often associated with individual rights, while in the US it is often associated with state intervention. Alfred Kouzybski, the father of general semantics, argued that “a word is not the thing it stands for. Words mean what you make them mean”.  It coined the phrase “the map is not the territory”. He went on to argue that some words simply too general to have any meaning, words like “fascist”, “moralist” or “humanist”.

It’s imperative, then, not to fall for simple generalisations about “named” groups or use loaded words. The world already seems filled with “anti-“ movements, whether anti-one percent, anti-immigrants, anti-Muslim, anti-semitic, anti-big government, anti-big business and so on. All of which simply limit sincere conversation and result in  preaching to the converted.

The same can be applied to banking or bankers.  Since the financial crisis of 2008, it’s easy to label them as immoral, evil, over-paid and government supported at the expense of the public. Such a starting point necessarily ends rational discussion.

The words of the sixth century Zen master Seng-ts’en provides an alternative route  “If you want to realize the truth, don’t be for or against. The struggle between good and evil is the primal disease of the mind.” Or more recently expressed by Madonna “You waste your time with hate and regret.You’re broken when your heart’s not open”

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