The Intention Behind The Words
I previously wrote a post called ‘Use Your Words (With Care)‘ where I mentioned that saying nothing at all can sometimes be more damaging than what could have been said. I also stated that I believe we have an emotional connection to words. I got this idea from ‘The Chimp Paradox‘ by Steve Peters, where we learn to associate certain feelings with certain words. There is then a chance of triggering those feelings upon hearing them. For example, words like severe, vile and grotesque may cause us to have a negative reaction because that is how we associate them. A well written novel may use the connection we have with certain words to bring the scene alive to the reader.
It is also the difference between saying something is rubbish to saying it’s not very good. The first could potentially invoke a far more negative reaction in us because the word usage is harsher despite the meaning being the same. As the book ‘The Chimp Paradox‘ suggests, using the wrong words in the wrong situations can invoke the anger in the other person’s chimp.
Another interesting example is the use of swearing. I’ve read about this in a few books and also saw it on ‘Fry’s Planet Word’ – Episode 3 ‘Uses and Abuses.’ Swear words cause the brain to light up. On placing a hand in a bucket of ice water it is suppose to be bearable for longer if we swear during the experience – I actually did try this and found it to be the case. However, the more we are subjected to such words the less they affect us.
I’ve noticed that when I’m around people that use swear words regularly to express themselves – particularly when it comes to differences in opinion – I tend to withdraw more into my shell. It’s not because I expect everyone to agree with me – in fact I enjoy such discussions -, but the use of language throws me. I don’t think it is such a surprise why some may act defensively – to things as silly as not agreeing on a favourite pastime – when you consider the language being used. That being said, I don’t think we all associate with words in the same way. My parents were quite strict on me with bad language; they’d get angry and punish me if they caught me using certain words. In contrast to this I’ve noticed some parents laughing and almost encouraging their children when they hear them speak profanities. As such, I tend to change the way I speak depending on the company I am with.
Some words can also be used positively and negatively, even swear words. Those people using bad language to express themselves probably don’t mean offence or realize how others may interpret that to seem abrupt. Banter between friends could involve very negative language towards each other, but in a friendly, joking sort of way; In fact banter can show just how comfortable we are around each other to allow ourselves to be made vulnerable. Some of us struggle when it comes to social skills or allow our emotions to colour what we’re saying, but we don’t intend any harm. There are also times that we may accidentally use words that are offensive to certain cultures; Perhaps due to a lack of education, the meaning being changed over time or because one word can have multiple meanings across different cultures. There’s a difference between a person with pure intentions accidentally using an offensive term, to a person shouting insults with obvious intended harm.
It’s easy to be misinterpreted no matter how clear we try to be – you often see celebrities being quoted in newspapers for ideals they may not even have. It has surprised me on a number of occasions how my words have been taken. I really appreciate being given the chance to learn and explain myself in such circumstances, just as I try to give others that same chance. Tone, expression and body language all play a role in how we communicate and so we cannot always understand intention from the words alone. Even with all of the information we can still make mistakes. I’ve found that it’s easy to get offended, but perhaps it’d be better to question the intention a little further first – for our own benefit as well as others as we may be getting upset for no reason. I guess what I’m trying to say is that words and intention are not always clear.
I also mentioned in ‘Use Your Words (With Care)‘ that I’d previously been given the impression that words could just be ignored – they’re just sounds afterall; I don’t fully agree with that, partly due to the emotional connection we have with words and also because many of us want to feel socially validated. Even so, we have no control over how others treat us, but we can try to control how we let it affect us. We can choose to take a more positive action rather than getting angry or upset; I personally prefer not to be either of those things.