Sunday, September 18, 2011

Labels and Words

The more I study languages, the more I realize the power of words and how we may interpret words differently and assign different meanings. Language is arbitrary. I was reading the book Language and Symbolic Systems by Yuen Ren Chao and he introduced this concept in his book. He said "Language is a form of communication (in the widest sense) is entirely arbitrary in its relation to what is communicated. Before the establishment of a convention, any word could mean anything." This phrase really resonated with me since I started wondering why some words may have a negative connotation while others would have a positive one. For example, if I say "she is different" some people may understand that as rude while other people may think that I am meaning she does not conform with the norm. The same happens when somebody says "she is beautiful" and to some people standards a person may be pretty while for others she may be ugly. Like one of my English teachers used to say "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder." We can apply this concept to words and say that "the meaning of words is in the intention of the communicator." The communicator may intend the message to be different from the message understood by the listener so it is important to make sure when we listen, we listen with empathy and try to understand what the speaker is trying to say with the meaning he or she is trying to convey. That's why reflective listening is so important. Even though it may seem we are repeating what the other person says, we should make sure we understood the message the way it was intended.

Words have power. They can create or they can destroy. Words spoken at the wrong time can bring war as well as words spoken at the right time can bring peace. Friendships can be made or break by the use of words. People can thrive or fail by using words. We use words in so many ways that we lose our awareness of the power words have and how we use them for our gain or loss.

When I think of words, I think of the words that have gained a negative meaning with time and how we can revert it. I think about the word witch and how it has become a negative label when once it used to mean "wise one." I think of the word magic and I see that now it has a meaning of something that is not real when it used to be connected with the power of intent. How many words have lost their original meaning since people feared their power? How many words we have added a negative meaning to deny reality? How many words have become numb because we used them so much and have lost the original power? How many words have their power diluted?

When I think of words, I think of labels as well. Labels are words that define us but in a sense, do they really define us? Do we want to be trapped by their meaning? When I think of labels, I think of what Johnny Deep said "They stick you with those names, those labels-”rebel” or whatever; whatever they like to use. Because they need a label they need a name. They need something to put the price tag on the back of.” Do we really need to structure ourselves with labels? Do we need to say we are this or that? Our labels are usually related to our roles but they don't define who we are. When somebody asks us who we are, we usually define ourselves as a role such as teacher, mother, sister, etc. There are so many roles. We hardly ever describe who we are, we describe what we do, what our actions are. When I describe myself I usually say I am a powerful, beautiful, intelligent, healthy and strong woman. I may change some of the adjectives but I usually don't describe myself as a Compliance Specialist or a wife. Words have power and labels have structure. Don't let the words and labels of the world define who you are, just write your own story, create your own words, make your own labels and don't let other decide for you.

Blessings )0(

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