Blog Post: Don’t Be Fooled by the Words People Use: Look Underneath Words to Unspoken Realities

Linda Elder
Sep 08, 2021 • 9d ago
Don’t Be Fooled by the Words People Use: Look Underneath Words to Unspoken Realities

{"ops":[{"insert":"We humans tend to have very little understanding of the role words play in how we experience reality. From the beginning of life, we are immersed in words, language, and ideas. For example, parents point to an object or person and say the associated word to the child—this is a chair. This is a spoon. This is Mommy, Daddy, baby, bad, good, nice, mean, ugly, pretty. With these, and many other, words we form beliefs. (“I am good.” “I have the best Mommy and Daddy.” “Some people are bad.” “These kinds of things are ugly or disgusting.”)\n \nBecause of our native sociocentricity, we often form our beliefs in accordance with approval or disapproval. We tend to uncritically assume the approved views of society. As we grow and age, we form ideologies, perspectives, and worldviews, based on the words and meanings we put together in our minds\nin their various configurations. These beliefs, based in words, form the fabric of our minds; they determine how we see the world, the assumptions we formulate, and the theories we use to figure things\nout.\n \nWe often choose words to serve our selfish interests or maintain our sociocentric viewpoint. The concept of doublespeak, which refers to the use of language to deliberately disguise or distort the root meaning of words, colorfully illustrates this point. Consider the following examples:\n\n• The term collateral damage covers up the reality of innocent people being killed during war.\n• Children in our country are taught to understand the world as it is, whereas Cuban (or Russian, or Iranian, or Libyan) children are brainwashed (into cultural ideologies).\n• Politicians aren’t spending taxpayer money; they are investing it for the future.\n• We are freedom fighters; they are terrorists—though we both engage in similar unethical behavior.\n• We stand for justice; they are for oppression.\n• We are self-confident, whereas they (whoever opposes us) are arrogant.\n• When our allies suffer loss of life at an enemy’s hands, we call it an attack in cold blood; when our enemies suffer loss of life at our hands, we call it retaliation.\n• The U.S. Government uses the term rendition to refer to people it illegally kidnaps and imprisons in foreign countries, beyond the reach of the law, in order to torture them if our government deem it necessary (because U.S. laws forbid such torture on U.S. ground).\n• We call farm animals livestock rather than, for instance, animals we kill to eat. We use the terms meat and steak and poultry rather than dead animal flesh. (Imagine ordering “dead animal flesh” at a restaurant.)\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Consider, as well, the following verbal disguises:"},{"insert":"\n• We sometimes say, “I love you,” when our behavior implies “you’ll do until someone better comes along.”\n• We sometimes say, “I need my freedom,” when our behavior implies “I don’t want to accept responsibility for my own children.”\n• We sometimes say, “No one is perfect,” when our behavior implies “I am obscuring much more than occasional peccadillos.”\n• We sometimes say, “I need more love,” when our behavior implies “I need more sex.”\n• We sometimes say, “She is a loose woman,” when her behavior simply implies “she is exploring her sexuality in nonconventional ways.”\n• We sometimes say, “I just like foods that taste good” when our behavior implies “I am addicted to unhealthy foods.”\n• We sometimes say, “I’m trying to save money,” when our behavior implies “I am addicted to shopping.”\n \nThe words we choose determine how we think of “reality.” If you don’t go along with the unreasonable thinking of your colleagues, for instance, you might be considered “uncooperative.” To “cooperate,”\naccording to this logic, means accepting the thinking of the group, however irrational.\n \nConsider the use of “waterboarding,” which has been used by the U.S. government to torture people considered “enemies.” Waterboarding, which sounds like something fun you might do with a surfboard\nin the ocean, is actually a label for the act of pouring water into a person’s face while he is lying on his back, to take him to the brink of drowning, and doing this repeatedly. By using a term like  “waterboarding,” we can obscure the fact that we are torturing people. The torture is camouflaged and minimized. We can foster a positive image of ourselves and hide the gruesome reality.\n \nIn brief, your behavior comes predominantly from your conceptualizations of reality and how you see yourself relating to those realities (through your conceptualizations). These conceptualizations are\ndeeply connected to the words you choose.\n \nCritical thinkers are meticulous in their word choice. If they say, “I love you,” you can readily see love implicit in their actions toward you. If they say, “I am trying to live the examined life,” you can see\nthem living more and more rationally over time. Critical thinkers try to mirror, or conceptualize, in their minds what is truly happening. They try to use the words that capture what is truly happening. They\ncommand their behavior through the words they choose. For example, “I am in charge of my life.” “I make the decisions that determine my future.” “I am the captain of my ship.” They recognize that\nself-deception often causes them to conceptualize things in ways that serve their interests rather than the truth.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Be on the lookout for…"},{"insert":"\n…the misuse of words. Notice when others use words to favor their interests or advantage. Notice when people use words in ways that don’t fit what is truly happening. Look for explanations that don’t\nseem accurate or logical. Examine the words you choose. Do you choose words to situate things so you can (selfishly) get more for you?\n \nTo better understand situations and people, mentally strip the words off the things and try to see what is truly there. General semanticists tell us: The word is not the thing. When we internalize this insight,\nwe have a powerful tool for gaining command of our definitions and, consequently, our lives.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Strategies for choosing words more carefully:"},{"insert":"\n• When in a disagreement with someone, state as accurately as possible (in good faith) that person’s viewpoint. Notice the words you use to describe his or her viewpoint. Identify different words that might better capture the viewpoint. Present your articulation to the person you are in disagreement with, if you can. Ask whether your words adequately capture this person’s viewpoint. If not, rearticulate the viewpoint until the other person is satisfied.\n \n• Notice yourself using words in ways that are irrational or that hide what is actually happening in your thinking. What are you hiding from? What are you trying not to see in your thinking? What are you trying not to face about something in your life? For instance, people who feel trapped in their work situation\noften use language that in essence keeps them trapped. Instead of using words that trap you, use words that free you. Instead of saying, “There is nothing I can do to change my situation,” say rather, “There is something I can do to change my situation. I just need to figure out what that is and start moving in that\ndirection.” The first way of talking traps you; the second sets you free.\n \n• Notice the way others use words. Notice when they use words in ways not reasonably justifiable in context.\n \n• Notice when people use words in ways that get them more of what they want without having to consider the rights of others. (An example is when people say they “need” things when they actually just “want” them. This is a common phenomenon in capitalistic countries that leads to overproduction of certain\nproducts and the waste of Earth’s resources.)\n \n• Notice when people use words in demeaning ways. For instance, for more than 100 years, homophobic people have used derogatory words and expressions in referring to homosexuals—such as homo, that way, a bit funny, a friend of Dorothy, and so on. These words then hold them hostage, defining their perspectives on homosexuality and sometimes leading to “hate crimes” or other unethical behavior.\n \n• When in a disagreement with someone, instead of giving your interpretation (conceptualization) of the situation, just state the facts. Instead of saying, “You always do X and you never do Y,” say, “This is what I see happening in this situation. Here are the facts. Do you agree with the facts as I have stated them? What is the most reasonable way to interpret these facts?” Be open to the possibility that you are misrepresenting the facts as you go through this exercise, especially if your ego is involved.\n \n• Try to become keenly aware of your word choice. Make every word you say represent the truth or the situation as well as possible. Notice how few people have this level of command of their words, and therefore, their thoughts and the quality of their life.\n \n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Notes:"},{"insert":"\n \nThis blog piece was adapted from "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"30 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living"},{"insert":" by Linda Elder and Richard Paul, 2013, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, p.. 97-102)\n \nSome of these examples were taken from www.newspeakdictionary.com, June 11, 2012.\n \nIt might be helpful to recognize that the concept of a concept is a difficult concept to teach. We must use ideas to explain ideas. We rely on concepts to understand other concepts: hence the difficult nature of the material in this blog. Refer to the glossary term for concept here: "},{"attributes":{"color":"#0563c1","link":"https://community.criticalthinking.org/viewDocument.php?doc=../content/library_for_everyone/50/GlossaryofCriticalThinkingTermsandConcepts.pdf&page=1"},"insert":"https://community.criticalthinking.org/viewDocument.php?doc=../content/library_for_everyone/50/GlossaryofCriticalThinkingTermsandConcepts.pdf&page=1"},{"insert":" .\n \nFor more on concepts, read John Wilson’s book, "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Thinking with Concepts"},{"insert":" (1970), as well as Stuart Chase’s book, "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"The Tyranny of Words"},{"insert":" (1959).\n"}]}


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