Saturday, March 28, 2015

Repost: Words Meant Things

Every other week my blog will feature a reposted work. I had been a contributor on two different sites that have since closed or no longer include blogs. I will be reposting pieces that had originally been featured on one of these two sites.  

This was originally posted June 20, 2011

My past three posts have been about how we use language in America.  I shared some reflections I had while reading a book titled, Language in America (1969).  Coincidentally, last week I observed an example of our modern polluted semantic environment.

Though I hardly ever watch TV, I was recently flipping channels with my wife at my Mother-in-law’s house.  We saw a few minutes of what I think was “Housewives of Orange County” (or some similar show).  It seemed that the host was interviewing four women about events on the show.

At one point he asked one of the women if she regretted what she had done. 
She responded, “I don’t regret anything in my life; I learn from it.”

Now this sounds very high, noble, and mature (though, perhaps a little convoluted) so I paid special attention when they guy asked her what she learned from the incident.
She responded, “That I shouldn’t do that again”

This response struck me.  She didn’t want to admit regret, but what she learned sounds quite similar to regret.  
Regret is a feeling of remorse over an action.  It seems that the thought that would go with regret would be something like, “I wish I hadn’t done that.”  Unless this action had been a habitual occurrence and this recent instance had some particular quality to it that helped her break the cycle (which didn’t seem the case based on the small amount of the conversation that I watched), then learning “not to do it again” seems almost exactly like feeling, “I wish I hadn’t done that.” 

I have heard this same sentiment before (sometimes phrased as “I don’t regret, I learn”). Often this is a snobbish way of denying regret or remorse. This is a weak form of learning, at best.  This is an example of pollution of language because she was using words in a way that deflated them of at least some of their meaning. 

Using words in a precise manner is important for our spiritual life because imprecise language is tied to other deeper issues.  I am only guessing, but perhaps the woman on the show didn’t want to admit regret due to pride or embarrassment.  Maybe she didn’t want to admit to the accusations the other women were leveling at her.  Maybe she didn’t want to admit that she needed help, that this incident was an example of a life (displayed on national TV) that is out of control.  If she admitted to “regret” she would have to deal with feelings of “remorse”.

The way we linguistically frame our actions and our feelings either helps or limits our ability to connect with others and ourselves.  It helps us to grow or it prevents maturity. 

How do you linguistically frame your actions?
How do you come to terms with your feelings? 
How do you reveal yourself?
Does your self-talk carefully hide your true self?

Do you think and talk about yourself in a way that fosters self-examination and growth?

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