~ A Word About Words ~

Words are just symbols we use to communicate an experience, nothing more. Without telepathy, we are left to verbally describe our experience, within the bounds of language. Because of this, word definition is vital to accurate communication. A good amount of argument is simply misunderstanding.

Several years ago, I was having a wonderful time speaking to a new coworker about our views on life. We had so much in common, he asked me what church I attended. I then used a word, which to me meant “tree-hugging, dirt-worshiping hippie”, but to him meant “devil worshiper”. Now that’s an awkward, and abrupt, end to an otherwise lovely conversation. He refused to speak to me for days. On my day off, another coworker explained what I had meant, but it was still a fragile relationship for several weeks. The word in question was “Pagan”.

To complicate matters, even the dictionary definitions of words change over time. Take this sentence: “I am content with my small house.” What does that mean to you? “Content” was once defined as “perfectly happy”, but has now become “it’ll do”. I know this because I have a friend that I’ve never communicated well with, to the point of needing a dictionary on a regular basis. Sometimes two. I just happen to have my Grandparent’s old one. There have been lots of changes to word use, and definition, over the years.

Now consider the word “Christian”… this word covers beliefs ranging from Unitarian to Catholic to Jehovah’s Witnesses, and hundreds more. When someone tells me they are Christian, all I know for sure is that the main god is Yahweh, and Jesus in involved at some level. It doesn’t even mean they believe in heaven, hell, or having a soul… all the things most people assume of Christians. Similarly, an “Atheist” simply doesn’t believe in an external, personified deity, but may be deeply spiritual. We do the best with the words we have, but a single word rarely adequately describes an experience.

Add to that the changing of word definition to cater to the ego of the user. This one is a pet peeve of mine in the spiritual arena. “Tantra” has always been an ancient and sacred energy practice, but now is used in all kinds of sexuality classes, including how to have better orgasms. “Polyamory” means “many loves”, but now is applied to promiscuity by meaning “many sex partners”. “New Age” used to refer to the evolution of humanity, but now it’s equated to denial (it’s all God, so it’s all good). You get the point. Without telepathy, we really need to define our words to have any meaningful exchange.

Plus, as human experience expands, we simply need new words to describe it. Ask fifteen people to define “love”, and you’ll get fifteen answers. We use the word “pedophile” to describe both people who rape toddlers, and who seduce 17-year-olds. Those are definitely significantly different situations, yet our vocabulary tries to put them under the same word. Both humanity’s highest achievements, and its lowest depravities need more words to accurately describe the experiences being had.

So the two things worth noting here are honesty and curiosity.

Be honest, with yourself and others, by saying what you really mean, not using the fashionable euphemism. Just own it, whatever it is, and be willing to speak openly about it. If you are hesitant to use words that actually describe the experience, rather than some softer version of half-truth, then that tells you that you just aren’t comfortable being honest with yourself. What are you hiding? What are you justifying? How are you deceiving yourself? It’s better to face those shadows, than to spread them with half-truths.

Be curious, with your own definitions and with other’s, rather than assuming what is meant. Labels are shorthand, not the finished document. Be open to learning, to asking questions. People are always more complex and interesting than the labels that they identify with. Your own beliefs are worth examining, and defining. And then redefining, as you grow. Before you react, ask “What does that word mean to you?” The answer might surprise you.

And by the way, Pagans don’t believe in the devil.