What would you do if my heart was torn in two
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say if I took those words away
Then you couldn’t make things new
Just by saying I love you
More than words
Now I’ve tried to talk to you and make you understand
All you have to do is close your eyes
And just reach out your hands and touch me
Hold me close don’t ever let me go
More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me
Cos I’d already know
Extreme, More Than Words
How many times have you engaged in discussion, debate, or flat out argument and gotten hung up with the words “it’s just semantics”? I can’t say the number of times I’ve “heard” that, or said it, myself.
But I have come to realize, over the years that “just semantics” is far more crucial than I ever realized. I mean sure, in some case you may truly be understanding one another and using different language that honestly does mean the same thing from different angles. But oftentimes, I think there is far more to it than that.
I know a fair number of people in activist circles who speak in glowing terms about community; most of them don’t belong to a single community organization. I also know a fair number of people who’ve tried to launch community projects of one kind or another; most of these projects foundered due to a fatal shortage of people willing to commit the time, effort, and emotional energy the project needed to survive. [emphasis mine]
Note the language. The project is assumed to be primary and needs to survive. The humans are resources in short supply that are to work on its behalf. This sort of conceptualizing, I submit to you, is part and parcel of the problem. Turning the argument upside down… what if we actually have a fatal shortage of projects committed to serve the needs of the people who do show up, aiming to help them survive and thrive?! Let’s ask ourselves: do projects need emotional energy, or do humans?
This is a classic example where I would expect a response of “it’s just semantics” yet it is also a classic example of what I would suggest is far more than word choice and actually reveals certain underlying, unquestioned (and often unquestionable) assumptions.
We live in a culture based on production. A world co-opted by the needs of production over the needs of people (human and other-than-human). An environment where the first question anyone every asks (after your name, sometimes) is what do you do? (I take care of the people I love… OH! You mean to make money[ie to produce]) A culture where the gravest sin is to do nothing at all [to produce things…] So of course, community must be a tool for getting things done. Right?
Wrong. Community is a gift for helping people (human and other-than human) find happiness, mutual support, completeness. It is the way our species has evolved to be in the world.
But back to my main point: The way we use language, the way we put together words and concepts and build arguments can sometimes say far more than what we initially intended to say. Hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) within our words are the assumptions we have about how the world, people, things really work. And I think it is useful, sometimes, to step back and look for those assumptions both in our own writing (and speech, although speech – being transitory – is often harder to pick apart) and in others. Stop allowing unspoken assumptions to be glossed over, ignored, or worse, simply accepted. Because it is the question that we do NOT ask, that define how we relate to the rest of the world.