The Language You Use Is Powerful

Please be aware of how you speak.

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Photo by Lauren Peng on Unsplash

“There can be no progress on climate change until we rebuild our civic capacity to discuss, debate, and disagree in ways that do not turn every aspect of climate politics into an identity-driven tribal war between good and evil.”

The antagonisms in our dialogues (or fights, rather) with those with whom we disagree are one thing. But the words we use to reaffirm each other’s views matter, too.

“Once again, people are guilty.”

“You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. (…) You did not act in time.” — Greta Thunberg’s speech to MPs at the Houses of Parliament

Even though some of it may be true in regard to certain people — I think that this kind of finger-pointing to the ones who are to blame for the present situation can have an effect opposite to the desired one. That’s because the people to whom such talk is addressed will most likely feel attacked. And when a human feels attacked, their autonomic nervous system usually activates the “fight or flight” response mechanism.

“In practice, unfortunately, empathy is an imperfect tool for political or moral change, one that can exacerbate divisions rather than healing them. (…) Our current political crisis is, in large part, the fault of empathy. And unless we are very careful, calls for greater empathy will only make it worse.”

One of Noah’s points is that empathy deepens the societal divisions because it “likes to travel up the social hierarchy.” He claims that those who are already privileged by society tend to receive more empathy — which, in turn, makes them even more privileged.

“The initial focus of a conversation about a contentious topic like climate change with a neighbor, community member, or elected official should be to simply recognize and affirm shared identities, ideals, and beliefs.” — Matthew Nisbet, PhD

Which brings us back to the question of language again. The words we use must seek to unite, rather than divide. Maybe this is the way to find traces of consensus where we thought only war could exist.

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What if you stopped treating your ego as the enemy and befriended it instead? To find out, read my new book, Ego-Friendly:

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