The power of language- when is a thug not a lunatic?

We’ve all read or heard about attacks and violence against others in the news- whether its been the shooting in a church in Charleston in the US, or a stabbing in a house in the next town, a report of terror attacks in the middle east or civil war in Ukraine… there is violence and the rumours of violence in the air.

I was recently challenged by something I read to think about the language we use- the terms we use to describe a situation and those involved have so much power to evoke emotions-

is someone a thug, a lunatic, a terrorist, a rebel fighter or a soldier?

White supremacist or religious fundamentalist, enemy of the state or vigilante?

Was it a slaughter, an attack or a mission?

The use of violence to express power and to take away freedom from others is one of the oldest forms of communication that exist- we see it in the animal kingdom and our history books and with varying levels of sophistication throughout our society. Often it is the implied threat and fear of violence that creates the seemingly stable society that we see (or choose to see) around us…

I suppose my answer to the question in the title of this post is ‘never’. I could go down the root of exploring what the words ‘thug’ (derived I think from a sect of Hinduism) and ‘lunatic’ (one who’s behaviour is affected by the lunar cycle) mean, but thats not really the point I’m trying to make. Any time someone chooses to impose their views on another by violence or the threat of violence they are stepping outside of the behaviour and morals that I believe are the right ones for us to live by. When I say that, I know I’m speaking subjectively- I believe this, but that doesn’t mean I’m right. So why do I believe it? Partly from a position of practicality- the best outcome for the most people… fear and violence do not create peace or wellbeing… Partly because I see those things in the teachings of Jesus. Yes, I am aware of the Old Testament and the history of Europe in the last 2000 yrs, and the crusades, the colonisation of the Americas and Africa… Yes, I know all these things, just as much as I know of the many good things that Christians over the centuries have done- leading the fight for the end to slavery and promoting healthcare and education throughout the world, standing shoulder to shoulder with those who are suffering and being ridiculed and murdered themselves for their faith- its not a balancing act or a competition between two sets of facts. I didn’t say it was an easy answer to put into practice or to hold onto. But that doesn’t stop it from being the answer I believe is true. There are very few situations where I can accept violence as being the best option. Disagreement I’m ok with, confrontation and conflict occur, but its how we deal with them that is crucial.

So how do I live this out- In the same way as the relatives of those killed in Charleston- by trying to forgive those around me, and seeking forgiveness myself. By encouraging myself and others to try and work towards the ideal- sometimes by saying things they become true in our hearts, and by acting on our good intentions we discover we actually can live that way. Its costly and makes us vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean its wrong. Today, I will do my best to live in peace with others, and to encourage them to do the same. I will almost certainly mess up, but I won’t accept that as the status quo- failure may happen as we go along, but its not the destination.


One thought on “The power of language- when is a thug not a lunatic?

  1. Thanks. I have had over the last few months struggled greatly with what people perceive as their ‘right’ to say what they believe even if it insults or hurts someone else, especially their faith whether that be Christian or Muslim. I heard a talk a few days after the Charlie Hebdo killings and the speaker said a very simple thing, “who do people become in my speaking” in’other words what I say affects the people around me. This may sound obvious, but if we are honest do we really think about the language we use, probably not and I am just as guilty of using the wrong words at times. Now when I know I have to speak in front of people I am more aware of how my words will affect those listening………

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