…that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.

“You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means”

-Inigo Montoya (the Princess Bride)

I try not to pander to the pedantics of politics in my my blog posts, but this morning I woke up with this quote from The Princess Bride running on repeat in my head. Today’s earworm, as with most words that end up being earworms, seem to be without external stimuli. But everytime it happens I still try to figure out what prompted the day’s particular thought or song. Looking to explain its peculiar presence in my mind, I began to think through things I had said, done, seen, or read the previous day or night – one thing sticks out in my mind.

Political pejoratives. There I said it.  Not much is it.

It seems to me that we as a people have become polarized to the point that we are more and more comfortable dehumanizing, at least on a philosophical level, those who hold opposing political views to our own.  A stereotype of America, I know, but it is apt for this post.

The ‘political pejoratives’ of which I speak are: ‘Conservative’ and ‘Liberal’.  I am speaking of the terms only as words, completely dissociated from the people they represent, because again, see the quote at the top of this post.  People have loaded these words with such broad meaning and used them with such wide application that they have ceased to mean what they once meant. When you see either of those words on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media they are almost ubiquitously expressed as ad hominem¹ attacks and convey more hatred and resentment than true meaning.

Let’s turn for a while to the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language for the official meanings of these two words as they pertain to politics.

Conservative – (adv.) That conserves, or favours the conservation of, an existing structure or system; (now esp.) designating a person, movement, outlook, etc., averse to change or innovation and holding traditional ideas and values, esp. with regard to social and political issues.

Liberal – (adv.) Supporting or advocating individual rights, civil liberties, and political and social reform tending towards individual freedom or democracy with little state intervention.

So when someone calls me a Democrat Libtard, are they doing it because I advocate for individual rights, stand for greater civil liberties, or believe that a police state has no place in the United States? No. The answer is an unequivocal no.  They do so with hatred, ire, and dissatisfaction. I’ve seen loads of my friends called Liberal Nutjobs because they believe that they should be in control of their own personal lives. I’ve had pastors cry with me because they are made outcasts by fellow pastors because they refuse to turn away sheep in need of a shepherd – shamed by the same derogatory terminology.

I see people who complain about being called bigots, when, in fact, their actions have been bigoted.  However, it is difficult in such a passionate political discussion, in which we are increasingly technologically connected yet socially distant from those who are our fellow citizens, to discern our own bigotry. To call someone a bigot is for the very same reason bigoted.

If we are to get anywhere as a nation, we must stop using words that don’t mean what we think they mean – we must open our minds and our hearts to listen and to feel the suffering.  That’s what passion means.  It means to suffer.  While we are so passionate about our own position, we fail to be compassionate, to suffer with, those who believe differently than we do.

Again, you keep using that word; I don’t think it means what you think it means.  So before you use it again, look it up; give it meaning, and if it means what you think it means, use it with compassion.

End notes:

¹  directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining

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