Words. Words and phrases. Something that I know I have written about, however with events in my life as of late I felt that it was a subject worth revisiting. For you see words and how they are used have power, a great amount of power, over the mind intaking them. Words and how they are presented can create or abolish a bias, give an unknown opinion, and also manipulate a person or situation.
Think back to a debate you have had recently with another person. Think about how each of you would present your case, and if you were disagreeing, how you would try and persuade the other to see your point of view. Depending on the length of the debate, there were most likely many different tactics used to sway the opposing view point. Usually these range from more intense and passionate to less or vice versa. Did anything work? How about when you used their point of view or their way of understanding in explaining? Did it work or at least open their thoughts? More often than not it is less the message rather than the way presented that change or create a bias.
Take for example the recent controversy in Arizona. For those who do not know the state legislator passed a bill which would allow a business to refuse service to someone based on perceived, or known, sexual preference. There were two sides to this bill while it was a point of contention in the nation, one called it the Anti-LGBT Bill, the other called it the Religious Freedom Bill. Two very powerful opposite statements talking about the same thing just to sway people one way or another. Now sit back and look at the two names without the background knowledge. How would you feel about each one? Did it change with the background knowledge?
Many know that while in college I was studying history, few know that before that I was studying to be a journalist. Both subjects take a great amount of understanding about writing, mainly about understanding a source. When writing about history one is not just asking questions to understand the information, but also asking the same who, what, where, when, why. and how, questions about the author or source. For example, much of the famous religious art was commissioned by the Catholic Church-which is why much of it is about religion-in a campaign to counter-act the Reformation and bring people back to the church. This campaign often times focused on two things, the idea of hell, and the idea of heaven; reminding people what happens when they stray, and if they stay. That is why there are so many art pieces with depictions of heaven and hell from that time.
Now put that same thought process to the art of the written word. If a conquer, like say Caesar, were trying to add legitimacy to their campaign, they might write home about how much the native people are savages and need the civilization of the home’s influence and rule. What about when one is trying to portray a non-bias argument? Like in journalism? There are ways around this thought process through word choice. For example, when trying to ‘present the un-bias facts’ in an article, but still sway an opinion one way or another, one would be much less concerned with what was being said than how it was being said. Take these two below statements regarding Arizona (credit for find to George Takei Facebook Page).
“Arizona governor vetoes controversial anti-gay bill” Washington Post
“Arizona governor vetoes religious-freedom bill.” WSJ
Again see the shift in the wording to shift thought processes one way or another?
Knowing and understanding this power of words can be used for malevolent or benevolent purposes. If any of you are familiar with the Netflix show ‘House of Cards’ there should be a recognition here. Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood is very particular about what and how he says anything, particularly when trying to ‘whip votes’. At times he even talks to the audience about his strategies and what he is doing. In season one there is a specific instance where he is working on pushing an education bill through the House. He is conversing with his chief of staff looking for the perfect phrase to feed the media when his wife walks by and over hears, dropping the perfect phrase, “unorganized labor”. Sound familiar? Former President Ronald Reagan did the same the same thing with “trickle down economics”, and so did Winston Churchill with “the Iron Curtain” taking a simple phrase that would take a book to explain. Still these phrases become common place, household words if you will, and people using them often lose sight of what they really mean. This manipulates the situation to become malleable to whomever is the mouth piece running the show. If you use a word and can not remember the definition of it, whomever introduced it to you can change it to fit their own argument-essentially getting anyone to believe what they want.
Words are power. This is something that is truth, fact if you will. Understanding this power can help steer closer to truth, on all fronts. Understanding the sources of words, the presentation, as well as the ultimate goal for them, can help defuse the forced bias behind words being said and allow the truth to flow forward.