same words. different meanings.

Words mean things. And different people use the same words to mean different things. This makes for either mass confusion or fierce conversations. The context of our own self-talk (internal conversations) colors everything we hear and read. These are some recent phrases that may be creating cognitive dissonance: of words and meanings
“epic” – I’m guessing this one is becoming a pop culture slang. It used to be, I think, about those movies with a grand bigger-than-life story, just a tad bigger than classic. Now it’s an above-average awesomeness; a recent referential pointer like “did you hear?”, a filler adjective.

“mentoring” – I’ve posted a handful of blog entries about this one already.

“authentic” – the word itself is all about the real deal. The word “real” gets jumbled in the same mix. The word _implies_ being transparent and vulnerable and unpolished. But, for some people, authentic means being non-transparent, not sharing their feelings out loud, not sharing their weaknesses, fears, and concerns, because that’s their being real.

“racist” – undoubtedly a loaded word. There’s the obviously intentional kind. And there’s the unintentional or blind-spot or passive or ignorant or systemic kind. Some people don’t think passive racism counts as racism. Some think any racial inequality and inequity makes for racism. Some are honest enough to say we’re all racists. We don’t live in a world with a level playing field. Race is a part of that dynamic. Race isn’t everything, and neither is it nothing. It’s also been used as a sign-off.

There are many, many more. The above are a few that came to mind during the composing of this post. Add a comment and we’ll add to the list.

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6 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    Conviction. Is it only a state of mind/heart? Or, do actions have to accompany it as well? How long do convictions have to last?

    Christians use this word to justify a lot of things, both good and bad. “I feel convicted to quit my job and dedicate my life to overseas missions”, “I’ve had a conviction in my heart to enter seminary after school”, or my personal favorite, “God has convicted me that we should date.”

  2. daniel so says:

    DJ – Great post. Another word being argued about/thrown out/reclaimed these days is “missional.”

    To me, most of the words you’ve listed are important enough to hang onto, and to be clear about understanding. In particular, discussions about race tend to devolve because we either cannot or will not try to understand the meaning behind each other’s words. Unfortunately, I see it happening all over again this week at UCSD.

  3. djchuang says:

    @daniel and @daniel, yes, those are also fuzzy words. I know there are a bunch of them in the Christian world.

    The thing about “convictions” for some people is how short-lived they are, so it’s not much more than a change-of-mind. Or to dig deeper, it’s a power play on words, to make a decision sound more weighty, as if to pull the God card, even taking his name in vain.

    As for “missional”, it’s a word that (almost) everybody wants to buddy up with, and re-define it to fit their respective context. Yes, it’s got broad-based appeal. And with that, a very wide range of what it actually looks like.