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Refugee v. Evacuee: Languaging the Hurricane Disaster - Articles Surfing

Language is a behavior potentially under our control, and a powerful loop: it's how we act upon the world, and how the world acts upon us. It's how we express our thoughts and feelings, and it also influences our thoughts and feelings. It is probably not possible to have a feeling without a thought, and that thought is framed in words ' coming from within our heads, or from the words of others.

Barring physical force, language is how we get what we want, influence, motivate, inspire, forbid, gain sympathy or support, incite, value or devalue, and make it happen ' in other words, how we move the world, and ourselves.

Having a word for something allows us to "know" it and gives us a sense of power over it. It allows us to know "it" from "something else," and to choose strategies for dealing with it.

Language is the power of 'naming,' and this is the power of the secret, or the name of Yahweh. Something must be very powerful not to have a name, and we must be very unpowerful not to know it, or not to be able to use it. Who gets to say it, i.e., who gets to "know" it, is dictated by the powers that be.

It's a great moment in a baby's life when he learns the word "no." Instead of pushing the thing away, averting his eyes, screaming, crying, or hitting, he can utter the word "NO" and -- at least some of the time -- the thing of offense will go away.

That's power.

The power of language.

And when we can name that our anger is coming from fear (instead of just a mish mash or feelings or pounding temples), then we can deal with it and move forward, empowered. Anger, as they say, is a good way of knowing what we want, though not a good way of getting it.

Those of us who have lived through the 'sexist' revolution in the US (in terms of "all men are created equal," and '[s]he') know the power of language and how it both influences and is influenced by feelings, attitudes and values.

You may also have experienced this if you decided, after assertiveness training in the 70s, to quit using the word 'but' and to substitute 'and' in each instance. It may have taken you a full year to quit thinking 'but' automatically, but chances are you noticed a difference in your thinking and behavior after you became mindful of a habit, and changed it.


Consider how you and those around you are talking about the events around Hurricane Katrina. What happened is this: Hurricane Katrina is the third most intense hurricane to make landall in the US. Early in the morning of August 29. 2005, the eyewalls of Katrina grazed by New Orleans, Louisiana and made landfall in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Those are the facts. The rest, as with the reporting of any event, can be, and usually is interpreted, reported, elaborated upon, commented upon, embellished, reported falsely, lied about, exaggerated, down-played, assigned emotional meaning, given value judgments, and so forth. It can also be 'used' for various purposes, depending upon the one reporting ' for sympathy, for outrage, for money, to incite action, to disparage, for support, to criticize and blame, and any number of other purposes.

The words we use in reporting about the hurricane personally, as a nation, and as a world, will be influential. Who dictates this language? The media? The leaders? You and I? The words used will shape your thinking, so pay attention and accept or reject it, but recognize your ability to choose and be mindful or both what you take in, and what you put out.

According to the Global Language Monitor ( http://www.languagemonitor.com/ ), a fascinating website, here's the way it's being played in global reporting, in order of word/term usage:

Disaster is being used most often. Then Biblical. (The London Times reported " ...a town of 6,800 where corpses lie amid a scene of Biblical devastation".)

Next is global warming. (Der Spiegel reported: "...German Environmental Minister Jrgen Trittin remains stolid in his assertion that Hurricane Katrina is linked to global warming and America's refusal to reduce emissions.")

Next, in this order, are Hiroshima/nuclear destruction, catastrophe, holocaust, apocalypse, and end of the world.

What do you think about these different terms? What are the connotations? What emotional overtones do they have, i.e., how do you react to them? How do they make you feel? What is 'factual' and what is 'descriptive'? As you sort through the data, are you discriminating the fact from the embellishment and commentary? Are you considering the possible biases of those reporting?

Are the survivors of the hurricane evacuees, refugees, or survivors of the hurricane? What difference does it make which term you use? Evaluate your emotional reaction to each. Various emotionally loaded terms are being used in order to manipulate your reactions.

Why not take some time today to apply this think/feel paradigm today as you speak and listen to those around you.

  • Is your word choice emotionally loaded? Incendiary, for instance ("Just try touching that television one more time and you're grounded for a week.") or depressing ("There's no use even talking about it. There's nothing you can do about it.")
  • Is it passive? ("I'd sure like a new computer but I guess you'd never give me one.")
  • Is it intimidating, designed to scare and silence the other ("If I'd wanted your opinion I would have asked for it in the first place. Just stay out of it."
  • Is it victim language? ('This always happens to me because I'm a star-bellief sneech?')
  • Is it politically correct, aka neutral of emotion and value judgments? Do you want it to be?

From your first smile as an infant, and the first time you uttered 'Ma ma' you were learning how to work the world with language. And the first time your Mama said 'Good boy' to you, when you ate your peas and you did, you were being worked on by language. It's a powerful tool. Use it wisely.

Submitted by:

Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach

©Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, http://www.susandun.cc. Providing coaching, Internet courses and ebooks around emotional intelligence for your personal and professional success. I train and certify EQ coaches internationally. Email for info on this fast, affordable, comprehensive, no-residency program. Mailto:sdunn@susandunn.cc for free EQ ezine.




Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).


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