I find myself on this cusp of the new year thinking about words and language. I am thinking about how for my whole life I was told that things meant things they didn’t mean. How that is a particular form of gaslighting and control that strips you of things that become increasingly hard to get back. It makes you question your communication, it makes you question your ability. How do you know that a word means what it means?
This, more than anything, is what makes me feel like I could never trust a religion again. The idea that words are redefined for the purposes of a being we will never see. Love was whatever god defined it to be, and if that meant that love was torturing people for an eternity, then that was what love was. Grace meant you accepted that people were flawed and sometimes that meant allowing abuse to go by without consequence. People are imperfect, after all. We must never fully trust humans but we must trust the organizations they are part of because organizations are somehow bigger than the human that built them, somehow big enough to capture their mistakes, somehow enough to be enough. No matter how many times they fall, it will not be enough to disprove this.
Perhaps worst of all, unconditional love is anything but unconditional. From the moment you are born you are walking a tightrope and at the bottom is hellfire and damnation, but that’s not even the worst part. Because as much as all Christians will tell you that the thing that you need more than anything is Jesus, that is not true. You are a social animal and the thing you need more than anything is people. You need your family, your friends, your community. And all of that is hanging in the balance. Because unconditional love could mean all kinds of things. If you slip out of line it could mean anger, it could mean hurt, it could even mean isolation. What it will definitely not mean is acceptance. You know this. This is sewn in your skin, like runes of salvation.
I sometimes feel like there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about these things but I think about it more now. When I was in high school I read 1984 and I was cut to the bone by this concept. Big Brother took away your language. Years later I watched Alphaville and it was the same, the totalitarian society just started taking words away, and no one noticed. But the one that struck me hardest was later, a Greek movie called Dogtooth that emotionally shattered me. An abusive family, keeping their children locked in a compound, never letting them into the outside world. Danger is manufactured in many ways. But the moment I can’t breathe is when they listen to their “language tapes.” These tapes tell them that “ocean is the big, blue chair in the living room.” That’s when I realize that it’s not just the stripping — although no one can deny there is power in that — it’s being able to change the meaning.
The English language (and probably any language) changes all the time. It is one of the more interesting things about it, a fluidity that encompasses culture. But with that also comes the ability to transfer power. What happened to me growing up can happen just as easily still. We are about to have a president take power who shows an unprecedented lack of interest in truth. He also has shown a remarkable ability to say something and then redefine and redefine those same words until they mean something unrecognizably removed from their original meanings.
I have a few goals for 2017 but none of them are as important as this one — I won’t stop paying attention. I won’t ever allow my communication to be taken from me again, or redefined. I will read and I will be open. I will listen, I will write. I will use the words I have at my disposal. I will choose them carefully. I suspect we are in for a long 4 years (at minimum). Like a lot of people, this election has brought up a lot of old thoughts and feelings for me. But I’m not a child anymore. This time I have power to fight back. And you’d better believe I’m going to.
Happy New Year.