Observations on the shift of language

16 Aug

Lately I have noticed more and more that there has been a distinct shift in our use of language. There are words or phrases that we just don’t hear anymore.

We used to talk about something being “true” or “false”. Now we talk about “my truth” and “your truth”.

We used to talk about being faithful or loyal. Now we talk about being “true to yourself”.

We used to talk about the world. Now we talk about “in my world…”

We used to talk about right and wrong. Now we talk about “what works for me”.

We used to teach children obedience. Now we call it “character education”, and it has more to do with allowing them to cultivate their passions and impulses than it does teaching them to operate well under authority, something they will do their entire lives, whether the authority of parents, teachers, employers, or government.

We are more concerned that they be “tomorrow’s leaders” than “a servant of the people”.

We used to help our neighbors. Now we want “self-help”.

We used esteem others above ourselves, which is evident even in our grammar by saying “So and so and I are going to the movies.” Now we strive for “self-esteem” and it is common to hear “Me and so and so want to do this.”

We used to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong”. Now we say, “I apologize, I made a mistake.” The word “wrong” carries a sense of not doing what was right. “Mistake” sounds more like accidentally overlooking an important piece of information.

You know what strikes me most about this shift in language? The slide from the old phrase and meaning to the new one often involves the insertion of one little word “me”. The shift is from others to ourselves, from the best interest of the neighbor to the whims of the individual. We think there is humility and kindness in “minding our own business”, accepting that you have “your truth” and I have “my truth”, encouraging people to “be true to yourself”, and in matters of morality and spirituality the best labels are to be called “non-judgmental” and “accepting”. But the irony is that those phrases and the meanings come not out of true humility and love but out of a particularly pernicious pride and a stalwart self-interest. The pride of “minding my own business” is not that I truly think it is in another’s best interest that I do so, but that I don’t want to be bothered by the inconveniences that come with “other people’s business”. The pride of letting you have “your truth” while I have “my truth” is that my truth is my pet and  I don’t take kindly to it being meddled in by other views that might convict me of its falsehood and cause me to relinquish what is so convenient to me. It provides me with an excuse to do as I please, according to my own self-determined standards. So if I have “my truth”, I’ll let you have yours, too, so that it will stay “yours” and not conflict with mine. I would rather isolate myself from you morally than gladly and willingly submit to a communion that might leave me in the humble position of being found wrong in my convictions and being accountable for my behavior to some other standard than the one I set. The arrogance of self-interest in desiring to be deemed “non-judgmental” and “accepting” is that I don’t want to put myself at risk of being vilified for calling you to account should you be in violation of some standard to which I hold as truth, nor do I take kindly to the possibility of you doing the same for me. I am less concerned about the condition of your life and soul being possibly at stake and more concerned about preserving my good name and favor and general comfort. I will gladly let you walk on in the error I perceive as long as I can preserve my sense of ease and security.

But if I truly love you, if I am truly humble, and if I do desire to extend the pinnacle of kindness to you, I will be “my brother’s keeper”, and be engaged in your life as much as possible and allow you in mine. I will seek for real truth, and when I find it humbly bow beneath it, and then turn and at the cost of our friendship and my very life, proclaim it to you so that you too might be rescued from ruin. And I will beg with fervor and passion, humbled under the purest authority of real truth and not my own ideals, that you abandon the your erroneous ways, and weep and plead and spend out all I have and am in hope of turning you aside from the path of certain destruction. That would be the truest expression of humility, and love and kindness.

John 15:13 qGreater love has no one than this, rthat someone lay down his life for his friends.

Matthew 12: 28 uAnd one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, v‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, wthe Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 xThe second is this: y‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment zgreater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that whe is one, and athere is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all bthe understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, cis much more than all dwhole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” eAnd after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

©2010 Reformation Lady and Chandra E. Wellman. All rights reserved.

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