I discovered recently that the one word in the English language which is what it purports to be in reality, is the word, “word.” Think about it. Every other word in our language represents something, but not necessarily the same thing to every person. We believe that by applying language to a situation, a person, a world view, we are creating what we perceive to be truth. But our very personal and very particular reality is just our perception among thousands of other perceptions created by the words we use, and will be perceived differently by every individual. If we are mindful of that, then we might truly understand what it means to be tolerant.
A simple example: If I point to the word, “box,” each person will visualize a box based on their experiences. It is very unlikely, two people will have the exact same mental image of a box. The word, “tree” will conjure up a different tree for each person, as they would do when they see the word, “sunset” or “sick” or “god” or any other word.
However, anyone can point to the word, “word” in a book and everyone will agree that it is, in fact, a word. Nothing more. Nothing less. Unpretentious and straightforward. It says, “This is who I am. Take me or leave me.” It does not pretend to be something it isn’t. All the other words pretend to be whatever the individual person wants them to be. “Peace.” “Love.” “Beauty.” “Equality”… these words bear false witness to the truth because they merely represent what each of us want them to stand for. They represent whatever reality each of us has crafted for ourselves by way of our personal experiences.
Many of us do share similar values and beliefs. But the precise reality of our world is intensely individual. Each of us has a unique understanding of what reality is, often forgetting it is different for every person, even if just slightly. Our words lie to us so beautifully. Some are so amorphous that every one will have their own definition of what “beauty,” “love,” “peace,” or “equality” means and how they manifest themselves in the real world. There are so many interpretations of these words. Their meanings are truly in the eyes of the beholder. We want so desperately to create a reality to which we can all ascribe. We all want the same representation of the world we want to live in, and maybe, someday, can live in. But that will only happen when we all agree that the words we use have the same meaning, the same reality. But the only reality shared by everyone is the word, “word,” because it is the only honest representation of what it really is.
We struggle with all the other words in an effort to communicate clearly and precisely our needs, wants, griefs, and joys. We fret over every word, hoping we will not be misunderstood and will be able to define our reality in a way that all will understand. If only words such as “peace, love, beauty and equality” were as simple as the word, “word,” finding common ground would be markedly easier.
The media and politicians spew out words and catch phrases by the mouthful. They try to sum up a person, problem or situation by drooling over them with clever tag lines and crawls across the TV screen. The masses create a perception of a reality from these words. Sometimes (more often than not) the reality they create has nothing to do with the truth of the matter, yet they will base all their actions and reactions on the premise that the words represent reality. Most people don’t bother trying to decipher the words but accept them without question or doubt. One has to be a critical thinker at all times. Do not let the mere repetition of phrases make you think that whatever is being said is true.
I tell you one last time, the only word that truly is what it is, is the word, “word.” All else is up for interpretive grabs.
Phil Polizatto, The Unapologetic Hippie