About 2 weeks ago, I wrote about language, a topic I deeply care about. I believe it influences everything, from something as ethereal as our culture to something as solid as our day to day behaviour. Like language, I believe words have power. In fact, I believe individual words are even more powerful than an entire language.
Changing a single word in a sentence can change the meaning of said sentence. But perhaps more important than that, is how a single word can create a bubble around concepts and ideas. Look at the following example:
“A happy, motivated employee is the best employee. Therefore, we should deeply value his opinions and needs”.
This sentence, with just one word is making the employee male. It’s talking about his opinions, and his needs. Words have the power to change perception. And in doing so, they deeply alter behaviour. Think about it, a lot of people believe that men and women are intrinsically different. If people that believe this, read this sentence, they will then believe that this employee’s opinions and needs correspond to their idea of male opinions and needs. There’s not a doubt in my mind that one small word, when used like this, will deeply alter perception. And perception is everything.
Reality, not really
Humans are beings of perception. Everything we see, hear, smell, feel and think is a reaction to stimuli. As such, our reality is made up of what we perceive as real. This has broad implications that go beyond our senses, like the power words can have in our lives. Going back to what I said before, a single word can change our perception, making the employee in that sentence male. This becomes a part of our reality, and everything we do related to it will be influenced by that simple, three letter word.
It may seem that this is just a rant about political correctness. It’s not. This isn’t about being correct or adhering to some sort of rulebook. It’s about the power a single word can have. It’s about being conscious about the impact our choice of words can have, and actively trying to include that impact into the sentences we say, write and maybe even think.
Words have power. And we are wielding that power all day, every day. The least we can do is realize the impact our choice of words can have.
Bonus: Here’s someone wiser than me wielding powerful words: Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming | Books | The Guardian