COMMENT – September 2021

What We Say Versus What Others Hear

Some words instantly sparking a reaction.  Let’s take Peterborough MP Maryam Monsef “gaffe” last week in discussing the situation in Afghanistan when she called on her Afghanistan “brothers” to ensure the safety of the multitudes seeking safe passage from that country.  If we take the plea at face value and accept her explanation of the cultural significance of the term in Muslim tradition as an innocuous prefix, we understand the intention.  However, this was not a genuine attempt to reach the Taliban, but a scripted piece of theatrics.  It is highly unlikely that members of the terrorist group were watching this broadcast, but members of the Canadian press were, and their reaction was instant and predictable.  That term provoked a response, which was the intention.

Autumn Sky, one of the library’s summer students featured in our front page story, also understands the power of words, and how culture and history affect how they are interpreted by different people.  When the backgrounds of the speaker and the listener are diverse, misunderstandings are common, even inevitable.  The meaning of words can also change over time, or maybe it’s that when we become enlightened to the origins of those words, we begin to understand their inherent offense.  Think of the terms “blackmail”, “blacklist” and even “master bedroom”, all of which are now being dropped from polite conversation.

It may seem petty to think that communication can be derailed by the use of a single word, but many of us have our own hot button words that instantly put us on the defensive.  Relationships require hard work.  You can dismiss it as political correctness, but we can contribute to meaningful conversations by becoming more sensitive to the situation of others and less sensitive to our own. It’s a recipe for effective communication and hopefully better relationships.  KG

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