Writing legibly has never been one of my strongest points. I have often wondered whether exasperated examiners passed me at school and university on the assumption that one so lacking in handwriting skills must obviously have used his time to soak up the more important facts of the subject matter being examined.
Letters to family and friends have had to be typed since my early twenties. Communicating with them by pen rather than Olivetti key would have left them mystified as to the author’s identity, never mind the viral message he was trying to get across. Even when I couldn’t join up the letters, the members
of our household often got a rather garbled idea of what the telephone messages I have carefully noted for them are all about. The problems that arise in many of our interpersonal relationships are caused by faulty communication. We misuse and misunderstand the words that are our means of expression, and ideas that are clear in one language cannot be precisely put into the words used in another.
Still, more do we find ourselves up the linguistic gum tree when we start on trying to communicate and interpret moods and motives.
Words affect us; language empowers life or diminishes it, encourages or denies it, alienates or enhances it. Our words about age, race, sex or status can easily diminish people – like saying whites are “above” blacks, putting adults “before” children or implying “the rich” warrant special categories
of attention. Words count. They can affirm or upset people. Though we object that “we don’t mean to hurt anyone” or “that’s not what we meant”, people should recognise that sexist, racist or elitist language is hurtful. We must educate ourselves on the realities of today’s human awareness. Inappropriate language
reflects our unconscious attitudes and feelings.
Words can make or break human relationships. Changing our language helps change our attitudes. Our words should say what we mean. The end of apartheid began with different groups of people – Otjiherero, Oshiwambo, Coloured, Damara/Nama, etc, all began to call themselves “blacks”. Using inclusive language is not a matter of politeness but an issue of justice. Our words must assert the value of all humanity.
Words, therefore, are crucial. Language can inspire or misguide us, attract people or drive them away.
Words can limit or reveal the fullness of society. Only rarely do we hear words which celebrate our mutuality, our shared humaneness, and oneness of all. The language we use must demonstrate the new community we are called to decree.
Therefore, trying to find ways or justifying it or glossing it over to pretend that it does not really mean what it says or that it isn’t really as bad as it seems – is to fool ourselves, and is only to delay the process of change and transformation within it. So what do we do? Raise the importance of inclusive language in our families and community circles, and with our friends. Be gentle! Be aware. Be open. Listen to what our language is actually saying. Be persistent. Be firm. Be gentle again. Most of us do not deliberately use oppressive language. We were brought up that way. We can change our words to reflect the liberating word for all people.We can turn a term of rejection into a tool of liberation.
* Reverend Jan. A. Scholtz is the //Kharas regional chairperson and !Nami#nus constituency councillor. This article is written in his personal capacity.
2020-03-23 10:33:42 | 13 days ago