In 1968 the Bee Gees sang “It’s only words and words are all I have” which made it all sound so simple. But words mean different things to different people. The first holiday my soon-to-be husband I went on showed that. We were in the Peak District and he suggested going for a walk. We had walked before around our home town but those had been to the tea-shop to cake and a long natter. Once in the Peak District his “walk” meant something totally different. What he meant was “all day hike” but myself and my kids were expecting a gentle stroll really.
Here in the UK Wales has just come out of lockdown and England has entered it. One of the big controversies is over “non-essentail good” and how people interpret that. Also what do you see as “essential“?
Garden Centres are still open but bookshops are closed. Supermarkets are open but they have closed off their clothes sections. My florist can’t open her shop but can work from hom. I must say I would have included “car screen wash” until Saturday when I needed some. One man’s non-essential is another man’s essential.
Now take it a stage further – I’ve just read “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge in which she talks about “insitutionalised racism“. I am now reading “God of violence yesterday, God of love today” by Helen Paynter in which she calls institutionalised racism “institutionalised violence“, which is much harder hitting, I believe. Both women are talking about the same thing but using different words. The above examples are of using the same words to mean different things.
So often what we say we don’t mean or we think we know what we mean but don’t have to vocabulary to express it. But also we don’t slow things down enough to either explain what we mean or to ask what is meant by. I would have had a much better time that first walk we did together in the Peak District if I had said “when you say ‘walk’ what do you mean by it?” I believe there would have been less upset if the Government had said what they meant when they said “non-essential” but also I think the media when they recieved the story would have been doing a public service if they had asked “why have you picked these things are non-essential?” and “what do you mean by non-essential?” But no one does. The media made a mountain out of a mole hill and the government stayed quiet. I got upset with my soon-to-be-husband and he got upset with me being upset with him! As we all do when people are upset with us!
I wonder too if Helen Paynter can get away with calling racism violence because she is a white middle class woman talking about God but Reni Eddo-Lodge would not have been able to because she is a black woman talking about her experiences? Sometimes it is as much the speaker as it is the words used that we filter what is said though. So maybe next time we think we’ve heard something maybe we need to be bold enough to ask what the speaker meant by that and also to question the cultural lens we are looking through.