I try to avoid certain terms when writing or speaking because they mean different things to different people. We get judgmental when we assume everyone else understands what we’re saying. But we come at life from different angles, experiences and perspectives.
Here’s a few hot-button terms, alphabetically listed, that we should use carefully.
Alien: Extraterrestrial life or, according to http://dictionary.reference.com/, a foreigner who has entered or resides in a country unlawfully or without the country’s authorization; or a foreigner who enters the U.S. without an entry or immigrant visa, especially a person who crosses the border by avoiding inspection or who overstays the period of time allo wed as a visitor, tourist or businessperson. Often called an illegal alien, this is a negative term for immigrant. Politically, what to do with “illegal aliens” is a major sticking point in Washington, D.C., these days.
Co-exist: Often seen on a bumper sticker. It means people should get along with each other, no matter their religious views. Most of us would agree that we should do this. Or, it could mean that all religions are equal. Christians, in particular, do not subscribe to this. Jesus claimed to be the only way to God. All are invited, but most do not accept the invitation.
Conservative: According to http://dictionary.reference.com/, disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change. According to http://www.studentnewsdaily.com/, conservatives believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense. They believe the role of government should be to provide people the freedom to pursue their own goals. Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems. Also, conservative frequently refers to the Republican Party. Are all Republicans conservative in every way? If they were, there wouldn’t be any debates over the next possible GOP presidential candidate.
Differences: People are different. Is this a good thing, or not? Depends who you ask. Men are different than women, for example, physically, emotionally and often in the way they think. Does that make men superior? No, of course not. But you couldn’t tell that by the way some people talk and act.
Diversity: See “differences.” Diversity often refers to racial or ethnic differences. Diversity should be a good thing, but not everyone sees it that way.
Evolution: There are two definitions: All beings were created from one species, or each species evolves within itself. There is archaeological evidence for the second definition, but none for the first. No species evolved from another species; man did not evolve from an amoeba or a fish or an ape, for example. Within species, sometimes an animal will lose a tail if it’s not needed, or humans in some cultures grow taller over time, for example.
Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men. See also “differences” and “diversity.” In a cover story for the December issue of Flare magazine, http://www.flare.com/, Zendaya, a 19-year-old singer and actress, says, “A feminist is a person who believes in the power of women just as much as they believe in the power of anyone else.” Meryl Streep, on the other hand, was asked: “Are you a feminist?” Her response: “I am a humanist. I am for nice, easy balance.”
Inclusion: Differences matter. “Inclusive” people respect those with physical and mental disabilities, especially among children in the classroom. But when children with mental disabilities cannot keep up with their peers in a public school classroom, should the school district be held accountable? This is part of the issue with federal and state testing programs. Other people expand the definition of inclusion to include respect of issues related to race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, age, beliefs, ability levels, economic status, sexual identity, gender identity and religion. There are many differing opinions on all of that.
Liberal: According to http://www.studentnewsdaily.com/, liberals believe in government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all. It is the duty of the government to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights. They believe the role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need. Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems. Also, liberal frequently refers to the Democratic Party. As with conservatives and Republicans, not all Democrats follow every liberal viewpoint.
Love: What is love? There are a myriad of definitions. This requires its own essay. I’ll write it eventually.
Peace: Is this the absence of war, or is it something more? Is world peace different than, say, peace in our hearts?
Pluralism: I first heard this term in a church setting. Does it mean that there are many belief systems, or that all belief systems are essentially the same? There are many belief systems, of course. But not all beliefs lead us to the same place. See “co-exist.”
Pride: An inflated sense of self, or a healthy acceptance of oneself. Also, the gay and lesbian movement has taken this word to promote itself – “gay pride.”
Spirituality: According to www.psychologytoday.com, spirituality means something different to everyone. For some, it’s about participating in organized religion: going to church, synagogue, a mosque and so on. For others, it’s more personal: Some people get in touch with their spiritual side through private prayer, yoga, meditation, quiet reflection or even long walks.
Truth: Before sending Jesus to be crucified, even Pontius Pilate, sarcastically, asked, “What is truth?” Truth is a fact or belief that is accepted as true. But we can’t always agree on what is true. The best definition of truth I’ve heard is to apply this standard: Is it true for all people, of all ages and cultures and living standards, in all parts of the world, for all time – past, present and future?
Many of these terms have religious and/or political meanings. This is why, in some circles, those two topics are off-limits for discussion.
How do we discover “truth” if we silence discussion? By talking about these issues, truth will win out, eventually. This is what the United States was founded on.
As the holiday season approaches, we annually debate whether a Christian manger scene should appear in public places. Why not? Let other religions post scenes important to them in public places in their proper season as well. Instead of excluding everyone, let’s include everyone.
Let’s foster discussion. With respect. Truth will win the day. Why are we so afraid of that? Do we not even know what we believe ourselves well enough to defend it?
Just asking. Because I can.