Really? Of all the blog posts in all of the world, this one is the most exciting?
It’s a superlative. An adjective or an adverb that expresses the degree to which the word used is greater than any other comparison. And the inappropriate use of superlatives really gets to me. I seem to hear them being used more and more in common speech. I wonder, often out loud, if the person speaking has the vocabulary to properly describe what they are seeing/hearing/experiencing. I experience their use as unhelpful and often discrediting to the point that the speaker is trying to make. When I hear exclusive language (you do that all the time) or superlatives (you are the worst person in the world) I tend to just turn them off. If I do it…
In relationship counseling that I do, I try to help people appropriately describe themselves so that arguments are about what they need to be about rather than semantics. I can’t tell you how many times discussions are torpedoed because of the unhelpful and inappropriate use of superlatives.
Today I read this from a sitting US Congressman, “The US Government has come out in full force against you, the American people.”
Really? Full force? What I’m hearing him saying is that the Government of the United States, the organization that I personally work for and this man represents (his facebook lists him as a “government official”) is using everything at their disposal to come against all of us, the American people.
Really? Full force?
Here’s what “full force” looks like – Syria. That’s full force.
I’m fairly certain that this young congressman has never actually seen what “full force” looks like. It’s ugly. I’m thinking genocide, starvation, bombs, hellfire missiles, armed Soldiers on street corners, restrictions on actual, tangible freedoms like the freedom of movement, checkpoints, slaughter. That’s full force. I’ve seen it. I’ve witnessed it and it is ugly and terrifying.
Really? Full force?
This is not a commentary on politics. As an officer in the United States Army, I am very aware of the power of words. They matter. I cannot just say anything I want. When a person is in a position of power, words matter. Context matters. In the course of my career, I’ve pulled leadership above my rank and below my rank aside to help them understand how their words are being perceived and encouraged them to think about the second and third order of effect their words might have.
At a memorial ceremony once, I heard an officer in the heat of emotion tell young privates to “give them hell” and “do what you gotta do” in reference to the enemy. Later, I spoke with the leader and gave him the feedback that when an officer says that sort of thing to a Soldier on the battlefield, it could be construed as an order or, in the least, confusing. Rules of engagement are hard enough without officers using language that seems to contradict those rules. In that context, words can be dangerous.
I would argue that this congressman’s words could be dangerous. He either actually believes this (when then makes me wonder how he would escalate his language if it got worse in his estimation) or he is trying to make a point and get attention. In that case, he needs to think about the second and third orders of effect those words might have. I wonder if a violent and unstable person might hear those words from a sitting congressman and this confirms that the paranoia in his head is real and demands violent action.
Words matter. Context matter. Opinion expressed matters. I would suggest that once you become a congressman, you should not say anything you want in any way you want to say it. It is decrediting to your education, your perspective, and does nothing to broaden support for your position.
When a person is in leadership, they must consider their words. Use some discipline for heaven’s sake!
Today I read this article about public shaming on social networks. It made this statement, “Increasingly, our failure to grasp our online power has become a liability — personally, professionally, and morally. We need to think twice before we unleash it.” Exactly.