Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Words, Understanding and Disagreement

Today I felt inspired to write after discussing "cis" as a word with some twitter pals of mine, including @AAEmmerson (who all Lib Dems should follow, because he's often right)

We started talking about "cis" as a word, and I would say almost all of us debating were in fact "cis", I believe because someone had stated they found the word offensive. I don't find it offensive, but I did it find it an odd sensation when I first heard it, finding out that there was a word for me, defined by a group that didn't include me. However, that aside, it's OK as a word.

Andy went on to describe a few words for gay people (i.e. homosexual) which he thinks, though correct and factual, "are tinged with disdain", and I do think I recognise what he means.

However I think words are just words, to be honest. There are some words I wouldn't use, because I don't want to cause unnecessary offence to others. There are some words in certain contexts that show a lot about the character of the person using them - i.e. their prejudice, and also, by the fact they are prejudiced, their poor judgement and I believe, character. But the words they use to describe others are just that, words. I say this because there are some previously prejudiced words that have been reclaimed like "queer".

I understand why some people feel hurt by words, I disagree with what I understand is the belief behind that, that words can wound and hurt - it's the intention behind and isolation/fear of the group you belong to that can hurt. Ban the use of a word and people will use it anyway, just behind closed doors, and even if you could remove the word completely, there would be other ways of describing the prejudice behind it, if there wasn't, it would unfortunately quickly evolve. Such is the etymology of hate.

Therefore I think it is a Sisyphean task to ban particular words, even if that "ban" is just through social opprobrium.

As Andy said tho, it's important to understand why people might be upset, and that led me onto thinking about this article by @IsabelHardman  - that sometimes policy is dismissed because of who's proposing it - which is daft when you think about it. Time and again we hear it though, that so-and-so can't possibly understand something because of his/her personal circumstances. I find it particularly egregious of the Labour party (and it is often them) and their "out of touch" line because of this, it doesn't do politics any favours, as Isabel says.

It is possible to understand someone else even if you don't share their background or characteristics. It sometimes takes some emotional effort, and asking a lot of questions but it is worth it. However, if you do understand someone, you don't have to agree with them.


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