The Importance of Language

Let’s eat Grandma!

Let’s eat, Grandma!

Two sentences using the exact same words communicate two very different ideas.

This has always been one of my favorite demonstrations on how important punctuation is (something that I am absolutely awful at). This example similarly demonstrates the importance of language in general. I learned that, when it comes to communicating with other humans, there are two major aspects to consider: intent and impact.

Let us use the example above. You’re intent was to have your family gather around your beloved grandmother, not call a horde of cannibals to descend on her. The cannibals were the impact of your communication, which was very different then you intended (hopefully).

Many people will discard your intentions because they only care about the impact, placing the sole responsibility on the communicator and not on the listener. I think this is wrong. We have to give credit to people for their intentions. There are endless factors that contribute to miscommunication, and thus negative impacts. A personal example is the word “hun,” like the waiter in a Georgia diner. “I’ll be right there, hun, to get your order.” The impact of that word on me is comfort and authenticity. If I go to a coffee shop in San Francisco and intend to communicate comfort and authenticity to the barista by using the word “hun” then I will be labeled sexist and treated with hostility. Therefore, it is important for both the communicator and the listener to consider the intentions of the person and not project assumptions.

That being said… If we are to consider the impact of grandma being eaten by cannibals, then we can take a moment to consider our word choice. The point of considering our words is to reduce the disparity between our intentions and our impact. We can consider where we are geographically (a diner in Georgia or shop in San Fran). We can consider our rapport (do we know them well or are they a total stranger). We can consider sex, faith, nationality, on and on and on. Most of this is perceived instantaneously by our subconscious. The issue is that we do not connect our subconscious to our conscious mouth. I honestly believe the world would be better if we just thought, considered, then spoke. That one step in the middle makes a world of difference.

On the other side, we should not walk on eggshells, constantly afraid of how others will react to our language. There are many who will respond negatively, and that’s okay. I am not advocating for dissolution of language to try and accommodate every variation of preference. I’m asking for us to consider the meaning of our words and the people we are speaking with, then make a conscious decision when communicating. If we do that, we will find that some people who didn’t really belong in our circle will begin to make their way out and others who do belong in our circle begin to make their way in. We want to be intentional on our impact of others. We should not take that lightly.

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