Sunday, June 14, 2009

Names can wound us, words can cripple us

There are lots of people who disagree with the idea that only words used as decorative objects, forged in metal or cast in plaster, that fall from atop some monumental shelf onto our thumb twiddling noggins can do us bodily harm.

And truth be told, I’m one of those folks who believes that while it behooves us to use our words wisely — that what we say and how we say it can shape our understanding and our actions, as well as our relationships with other humans – we have to choose our battles.

For instance:

Curse words. Personally, I think curse words are terribly satisfying to say. Occasionally, too often, they roll off my tongue with the ease of a longshoreman.

Is that sexist? Probably. Longshoreperson.

To be quite honest, the only reason I think logical to oppose them in general is the long term cause and effect, which is the more you rely on them to make your point the less punch your paragraphs actually pack. It’s just a simple truth, they really aren’t effective if you want people to pay attention to anything serious you may have to say.

So when a word, unmentionable in a grandmother’s company, slips from between the sugar-sweet lips of my soon-to-be kindergartener, I can see how that secondary lesson about curse words is going to be harder to mandate than it would have been to model.

Thus far I’ve been trying the "you-realize-we-can’t-say-that-word-in-public" response when I hear the offending usage, hoping it doesn’t turn into an "if-you-say-that-word-at-school-you-could-get-into-big-trouble" admonition. At that point I’ll just be praying we don’t get a phone call from the principal or several angry parents we were hoping to befriend.

But there is one word that, if I possessed such a power, I would erase completely from the pages of Webster: boredom.

"I’m so bored," whenever I’ve heard it, has always seemed a whiney complaint that is a complete and utter waste of angst.

They are three words when strung together will literally make the hairs on my neck stand on end.

How is boredom possible if you can read?

If you can draw?

If you can think or plan?

How is it possible with the hundreds of must-have toys, the internets, the telephone, the myriad of amusements one can invent with their mind, folks can’t think of something more interesting to do than announce they are bored?

To me boredom is an acceptance of one’s own lack of imagination. A lack of intellect we announce to the world, demanding that it be fixed for us. A petty demand the same as when the sullen teen holds up an empty glass one room away from the kitchen and demands service by wiggling it in the air, saying "Can I have more juice …" but making no attempt to move off the couch.

The response we have is almost always something along these lines of: "Do I look like you’re personal waiter? You have legs. You know where the refrigerator is. You MAY have juice."

Perhaps all those things I mentioned: … the toys, the games, the virtual pleasures of the computer have softened us. Perhaps television has rotted our brains and given us minute attention spans. The argument seems plausible.

Only thing stopping me from believing it is that the slogan isn’t new.

Seems to me that the people who see boredom as a consequence of over stimulation, also see it as an acceptable alternative to modern technology. That doing nothing is OK, too.

But I don’t define doing nothing as really doing nothing. I don’t think Roget would have paired the two words in his thesaurus, at any rate. We are always doing something if we can think, or curl up with a book, or take a nap.

Allowing boredom to be an acceptable activity, if you ask me, just steals the thunder of the quiet thrills like dreaming up acceptable curse words to work into one’s English essay.

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