Yesterday I wrote a post on how language matters.
Have you ever thought about words? Being someone who lives in a world of words, I can’t help but think about them. I think about the meaning of words a great deal.
Here are few that I contemplate often — justice, just, fair. People throw these words around rather easily. I have a hard time with this. These words are loaded with all sorts of meaning. And they are used almost flippantly in my opinion. Sometimes it seems as though these terms are used as mere props used to hold up some kind of agenda. Who could possibly be against justice or being fair right? The problem is that different sides of an argument can claim these terms for their agenda. Who really upholds the meaning of justice or fair?
Without defining these terms, they can be used to support opposite things.
I have some other favorites — family values, change, great, investment, etc.
Politicians use these terms and so many more as rhetorical tools. They don’t define what they mean. They use vague terms and people latch onto the rhetoric, make their own definition and assume that the politician means the same thing as them.
This has happened in religion too of course. Some terms that have caused untold division and strife in religion include — justification, sanctification, Eucharist, etc.
And it happens in other areas of life. Some concern vastly important subjects — terms like human and person. Ever try to define these terms? Go ahead, I’ll wait. It’s not easy to come up with a clear and precise definition. Maybe you want to go with a definition that says that a person is someone made in the image of God. Great. What does it mean to be made in the image of God? What are the boundaries? What about exceptions? Philosophy has been debating these terms for centuries. Don’t worry is you can’t come up with a definition on the spot.
And that’s the point. Words have meanings. But they aren’t meanings that just pop up out of no where and are agreed upon and understood by all. Yet, so often vague, but important words that have varying meanings are used far too easily and frequently. If only we stopped to ask what the speaker actually meant by the terms they use. It would save us a great deal of pain.