Peacemaking Room

Johnny don’t fight at school. Your mother is waging the war on cancer. Your father has his battles everyday at work. Your sister has to attack her studies. We just can’t have you fighting at school. (example made by M.J. Hardman Language and War in the International Humanist News, 2002)*

I decided to make an effort recently to take note every time that I hear language that denotes violence or war.  It did not take long for that list to get very long.

body wars
battle cry
A bomb went off
Blew him out of the water
This means war!
go to war over it
war against cancer

I have also started to catch those expressions in my throat and try and hold them back.  However, since they are so pervasive and automatic,  I have had to do a lot of swallowing.

I called the movie theatre the other day to find out what PG means.  We were debating whether or not to take our kids and a few of their friends to a movie with a PG rating.  The woman on the other end of the phone said that in the case of this movie it was just for some minor swear words like "damn". I was more concerned with scariness than the vocabulary to be honest. I actually do not have a big problem with damn and even a few other stronger swear words, even with a 3 year old in tow.  For a while now, we've been trying to contextualise those bad words with our kids.  For ages, the rule has been that it is never okay to call someone "stupid" but something "stupid" can be okay.  As parents, we focus so much of our time kicking ourselves for saying certain words in front of our kids and the inevitable parroting back of one of these "offencive" words and yet, we do not spend much time at all collectively analysing the words and expressions that refer to violence that we use in seemingly innocent ways.  "Your room looks like a bomb went off."  "We've got to fight this!"  "Their team blew us out of the water" "She fought tooth and nail to get him in that class."

During our last election, even the public broadcaster here in Canada had continuing coverage of what they were calling the "War Room".  In a relatively peaceful democracy, what in the heck do we need a war room for?

Too often we assume that those expressions are simply words of conviction and demonstrate our passion.  Too often we forget that those same words may have very real meaning to people in our midst. I'm going to keep trying to clean up my language.  I'm still going to say "fiddlesticks" (or it's saltier equivalents) when I get frustrated, but I'm going to put my heart and mind into using more peaceful words.  Just like the word "stupid" is inadequate and is a lazy way of expressing frustration with something,  violent expressions should be used sparingly and with awareness.  They have become too easy to use without thought about how they impact us and others.  Probably, it's because using peaceful language takes more effort and care to choose the right words so that the message does not come out sounding flaky. At least, at first...

Speak a new language so that world will be a new world.-Rumi

*For a great article on this topic, go to: Language and War