Let’s Stop Being Afraid of Language – Communication and Freedom Lessons From Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Broken RobotCommunication presentation is the careful and concise logic behind selecting words to communicate an idea—the rules of grammar and punctuation aid in communicating correctly to enhance the sense and communicate the vision.  Language is a grand and glorious tool for sharing ideas, empowering motivation, and building ideas into action items.  Yet, for some reason, words have become cheapened by political positions, and I would see this trend cease forthwith.  Presenting the first and second principles of language and communication:

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The best of a book is not the thought which it contains, but the thought which it suggests; just as the charm of music dwells not in the tones but in the echoes of our hearts.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Consider two emails; the content is identical, the first is titled:

How To Learn and Master Things Faster – Five Tips

The second email was received later in the day and is titled:

How To Learn and Excel At Things Faster – Five Tips

The second email also came with an apology:

Apologies for churn. The original email today used a non-inclusive word in the header. We apologize for this error and are re-sending with the corrected content.

The content of the email did not change at all, only the titles changed, and the apology suggests that there is a “non-inclusive” word in the original title.  Some people will erroneously claim that the term master is automatically a negative term and base that assumption upon slavery, especially with Juneteenth celebrations abounding this weekend.  Except, master and mastery are not negative terms.

Knowledge Check!As a point of reference, a male teacher is a master.  There are master degrees; master also appears in religious texts as an honorific.  A master can be a highly accomplished person in a trade or craft, or a role model from history.  One having authority over another to force compulsion is much lower in the definition lists.  Hence, the wordsmithing for “inclusion” is a myth; yet the fear of potentially appearing to be exclusive forced the title change in this email and was 100% wrong!

We must never forget the following:

My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. [emphasis mine].

The fear of thought police drives a lot of other problems in society.  Choose the wrong word on an advertisement, and college children (thought terrorists) have been known to storm the business, ruin patronage, anger the entire community, and force the business closure.  All because they presume the mantle of “Master of Thought Police.”  Who gave them this authority?  Where are their charter, endowment, and power originating from?  Who granted permission; this last one is easy; the license to become a terrorist was self-assumed!  Necessitating the following principle:

The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily also deprives others of the right to listen to those views.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.Social Justice Warrior

Please note, I am not against wordsmithing to increase the potential power of communication to reach an audience.  Nor am I against the careful selection of words to provide clear context and empower a collective message through editing.  I will certainly not be upset because someone chooses one word in a message that I might not have used had I been in their shoes.  Why have we, the adults in society, allowed the children in the community to act like spoiled brats and create fear and division over word selection and placement in a message?

The following two quotes contain more than simple support for the principles of communicating but reflect how those principles of freedom and communication operate in society.

If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Certitude leads to violence. This is a proposition that has an easy application and a difficult one. The easy application is to ideologues, dogmatists, and bullies–people who think that their rightness justifies them in imposing on anyone who does not happen to subscribe to their particular ideology, dogma, or notion of turf. If the conviction of rightness is powerful enough, resistance to it will be met, sooner or later by force. There are people like this in every sphere of life, and it is natural to feel that the world would be a better place without them!” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. [emphasis mine]

QuestionIs the fear of the mob so significant that even without a mob, fear is spread, risks must be avoided proactively, and thoughts curtailed?  I say NO!  I defy the entire argument that word selection can cause exclusion.  Why; because understanding is a choice!  The only person who can choose to be insulted over a word is you!  You own the emotions of the moment, and your emotional choices are not my concern!  Do we understand this concept?

Audience selection is the first job in designing communication.  Identifying the primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences is the job of the communication initiator.  After drafting that message and sending the ideas out, the audience is left to choose what they do moving forward.  How you choose is your power, and I am not responsible for your choices.  The communication initiator is not accountable for your preferences and selections.

Andragogy - LEARNBut what about those messages specifically designed to inflame, insult, denigrate, and deride?  What changed?  Nothing!  The communication initiator desired to rile the primary audience, deny them this power over you, choose different emotions, and retain the moral high ground.  The best response to a communication initiator who wants to rule your emotions is to deny them that power, and then that person goes away as irrelevant.

Opposing thoughts expand our minds with both experience and the force to make a decision.  If all we ever experienced were ideas and thoughts we agreed with, change, growth, opinion, all the spice of life would be lost.  Worse, envy would overcome logic, and the world would undoubtedly be a more violent place as a result.

I have no respect for the passion of equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy – I don’t disparage envy, but I don’t accept it as legitimately my master.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.Social Justice Warrior 3

Is the ability to choose emotional reasoning supported sufficiently to empower you?  One of the great tragedies of life, since the 1960s, has been the call for “equality” when the worship of envy was the actual message.  Worse, these ideas have been planted and carefully tended, and the fruit is poison.  When I moved to the western US as a kid, I was introduced to cedar trees for the first time.  A cedar tree is the place of choice for pregnant animals to have their offspring, as the cedar slowly transforms the ground under it into a sterile environment.  The air is affected, the earth is involved, and the grove of cedar trees holds tremendous power for generations inside the forest of cedar trees.  The cedar tree is an excellent example of the power of envy worship.  Call envy equality if you prefer, but the fruit will kill and poison the minds of those choosing to plant the seeds for generations.

Taking the concepts into the final thought:

Liberty is often a heavy burden on a man. It involves the necessity for perpetual choice, which is the kind of labor men have always dreaded.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. [emphasis mine].

Calvin & Hobbes - EnmityLike the expanded mind, choice leads to decisions, decision spurs action, and action will result in consequences.  How you perceive the effects will drive the next series of choices, decisions, activities, and consequences.  Liberty and freedom allow us the glory and the horror of choice and consequence.  Thus, I plead with you, stop allowing your emotional decisions to be controlled by others!  Cease the turmoil over language, speak simply, communicate clearly, and then rest knowing you have not intentionally caused harm.  The audience is left to choose, and if they choose to be offended, those are not your consequences to suffer!

Reason may be the lever, but sentiment gives you the fulcrum and the place to stand on if you want to move the world.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Published by

msalis1

Dual service military veteran. Possess an MBA in Global Management and a Masters degree in Adult Education and Training. Pursuing a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Business professional with depth of experience in logistics, supply chain management, and call centers.

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