Power of Language

Language is so fascinating - it is one of the reasons I majored in English and why I loved critical theory. Most people don't think very deeply about how they use language and even how language uses them (read Life of Pi and come talk to me and I will show you how language used you :P). Back in my undergrad I took a class on madness in literature - it was one of the most interesting classes I took my entire undergrad career and I took a lot of classes. That class in combination with a class I took called the Philosophy of Language forever changed how I view language.

But I've been thinking about the power of language alot since I read an article yesterday - that illustrates very clearly the power language has and how it affects how we view, conceptualize and even ultimately FEEL about things. With all words, the society we live in tends to assign meaning to words - cat only means that smallish furry creature we call cat because our society has designated that words means cat. The animal itself is not an inherent part of that word. The difficulty with this is that when you assign or accept a societal definition of a word you accept all the meaning that has been assigned to that word. Take the word 'pure' for example as discussed in the above article - many of us have taken on the common definition that pure means without contamination and that once something is contaminated it cannot become uncontaminated. And because of the contamination the inherent value becomes less.

I know this mindset and acceptance of this definition persists in the LDS culture we live in when I worked and interacted with victims of rape in Utah County. Rape is still associated with a loss of chastity and a loss of chastity with contamination. This effects how people view victims of rape but also how rape victims feel about themselves - Elizabeth Smart talked about this how one of the reasons she didn't try to escape - she felt as if she were worthless now and that no one would want her anymore including her family and/or a future spouse. Imagine how debilitating that thought process is and how one of the foundational reasons is language and the accepted definitions we have for a word like 'pure.'

I also have thought about the words 'gay', 'lesbian' or 'same-sex-attraction' and the meaning and definition in the LDS culture specifically and the power those words have been given. One of the most interesting things I've thought alot about in regards to these words is how people have come to be defined mainly by what we term their sexual orientation. Suddenly that word is the biggest defining term about them? And in this I think 'attraction' is a word that should require a bit of examination as to what society has done with that word. The societal definition and meaning of 'attraction' has become almost entirely sexual - if I'm attracted to someone it means I'm attracted sexually. But there are many types of attraction and some have nothing to do with a sexual attraction. I think because of this alot of what is termed 'same-sex-attraction' has nothing to do with sex or sexuality.

I personally am more attracted emotionally to women - and as some of you read that last line you probably feel a strong negative reaction. Why? Because most of us accept the definition for attraction means something sexual. However, attraction is a feeling of connection or being drawn to something or someone. So since I find it easy initially to connect with other women emotionally then I would feel a connection or be drawn to women emotionally before men. This shouldn't be surprising - it has been proven many times over that women need other women and that most often that is because of the ability of women to connect emotionally with other women. Men (for the most part) don't function the same emotionally as women.

It has often been a confusing journey to understand this about myself because of the definition and meaning that society has given the word 'attraction.' It has been forgotten or no longer considered that a big reason we build friendships or friendships happen with certain people and not others is because of attraction - we are attracted to some people or have a greater ability to connect with some people vs. others. This has been lost in the whole 'same-sex-attraction' definition.

One quick sidebar - that doesn't mean I'm ignoring or trying to marginalize in any way that there are numerous people of both genders that are attracted sexually to those of the same gender. I'm just stating that I think some of the time that isn't what is happening but people move that direction because they accept the overarching definition and meaning society has placed on that word.

Ultimately, one reasons I loved my English classes the focused on critical theory was because they focused on helping us to identify and understand that language is a structure and that as I said above - the meaning and definitions we accept for words affect how we think, respond and FEEL about situation we encounter and experience. There are numerous things in this world that could be changed for the positive if we examined, understood and worked to change what definitions we give power in our life.

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