Friday, May 3, 2013

What Is In A Word?

Beauty. They say that it is in the eye of the beholder. But is beauty subjective, something that is present or absent depending on our opinion of the subject of our evaluation for this trait? I know that there are different forms of beauty, including physical beauty, the beauty of how things or people look on the outside. And these can be subjective as we all have different ideas of what any form of beauty is. I know that there are the "top ten" of the "most beautiful" people, yearly in a celebrity magazine or two. But this type of beauty that is being referred to is physical beauty, how these individuals look. Frankly, when I have seen some of the "winners," I have wondered what judges saw in them. But this just proves that beauty IS subjective and that what is beauty to some people is not beauty to others. And then there are other forms of beaurty that have nothing to do with outward appearance, that is, what we call inner beauty of the heart and soul ot the beauty of how things are used. The Bible talks about the "beautiful feet" of those who bring the Gospel of God to others. Now we know that feet are normally NOT pretty to look at; often they can be downright ugly. But the beauty here is how these feet are used: to introduce something into the lives of others that will change their lives forever. As for inner beauty of the heart and soul, I was stuck, months ago, with an article about the woman who is titled "the ugliest woman in the world" but whose choices and attitude scream her inner beauty of heart and soul. This very moving article and the many comments to it, can be found here:

Hero. We use this word very often. We use the word to refer to people who mean much to us, as in "He is my hero." This is in the sense of someone meeting the needs of another in the right place and at a critical time. For example, we often appeal to people's sense of compassion and humanity by saying, "Will you be a hero to this person?" when raising funds for children in need or appealing to the public for information to solve crimes or to bring a missing/unidentified person home. And it is used to simply refer to people we look up to, for good or not. Celebrities and athletes are frequently called "heroes" so often when people express "hero worship" for them; I have often felt that such persons are not the best people to ascribe this lofty title of hero to. And that holds true especially when they adopt, as so many do, lifestyles of drug addiction, self-indulgence or self-seeking. And then we use this word to refer to those who place themselves in harm's way on behalf of others, especially in reference to law enforcement, the military, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, and those who serve in many other dangerous positions. And this use of the word is most appropriate. As I have heard it, a hero is one who 1) goes above and beyond the call of duty, 2) risks himself/herself to serve the higher good of others  and 3) does things that he or she would NOT be criticized for if he or she chose not to do these things.  A number of years ago, for example, Headline News Network (HLN) was doing a "Heroes" segment. The featured couple were employees who worked at a local McDonalds; they had both, WITHOUT training or protective gear, had run into a burning building to save the lives of a family. They are heroes by anyone's defintion! However, is this trait something that is within reach of each of us? The way that I have heard it, the choices we make in the small things will determine how we would react in a situaton where we would be called on to show the trait of heroism.

Survivor. We use that word more and more today. People who have battled cancer call themselves cancer survivors. People who have had heart attacks or strokes call themselves heart attack or stroke survivors. People who have experienced crimes of any kind call themselves crime survivors. People who have experienced abuse of any kind call themselves abuse survivors. We can go on and on. When this word is used, of course, what comes to mind are people who have experienced situations of life and death and have lived through them. But this word is also frequently used by so many people to give validation and closure to lives of adversity and hardship. It is an empowering word that gives meaning to things that would otherwise have no meaning and give one motivation and courage to face life and people than if you see what has happened to you as merely a random set of events without rhyme or reason. Survivor is a title that many people in my online networks give themselves and if their identity. When I was growing up or even in early adulthood, I do not remember so many people calling themselves survivors. But in this age of information and awareness about all different forms of crime, abuse, illnesses and disabilities, this word is being more widely used by many of of us to describe our pasts. This is in contrast to the past when many things were shrouded in shame, stigma and a code of silence. Of course, in an ideal world we would not have to call ourselves survivors of anything. But we do not live in that kind of world and most of us need the validation that will empower us to face life and people with confidence.

Friend. Oh how often we use this word! We often use it to refer to people whom we know or don't know well, just because they may happen to go to the same congregation, go to the same school we do, work at the same job or live in our neighborhood and greet us when they see us on the street. And in this age of social networking, we use this word to refer to people whom we have added to our social networks. Friends in social network circles have access to each others' profiles. And in these social networks, the more friends we have the more people we have who are friends in name only. These are people whom we may not give a passing thought to, be able to recognize if we saw them walking down the street and may not even like them. And then we use the word friend in the Biblical sense of the word, to describe someone who loves unconditionally, protects us, stands by us, believes in us, tells us the truth and who can be trusted. Many times we use the word friend when we really mean acquaintance.All of us have far more acquaintances than friends and can probably count on one hand the number of friends we actually have. And it works both ways, to build a true friendship we need to give trust, unconditional love, truth, loyalty and understanding, all the qualities of friendship. In thse days this word friend has become very cheap and its meaning meeds to be reclaimed. That can happen if we give and receive real friendship. Years ago, I would have said that it is impossible to build a real friendship online. Now I have changed my mind though I still maintain that it is very hard to do. Yes, I know that we live in a society of "lonely strangers" and that building friendships is much easier said than done.

Advocate. That word is often used. Growing up, I thought that the word referred only to people who go before politicians or others in power on behalf of others, like lobbyists. I know that such people are indeed advocates. In the Bible, Jesus calls Himself our Advocate before His Father not because He has to defend us to the Father but to defend us from Satan (yes I believe in a personal devil) who is no friend of ours. But today, now that I have entered the world of social networks and have taken up a number of causes that have bearing on my life and that of my family, I hear the word often and many in my network call themselves by this title. But recently, in a discussion thread to a blog directed to families with missing loved ones, a person said something like this: "Many people call themselves advocates when they are actually concerned citizens. This is not accurate. Anyone who calls himself or herself an advocate ought to get proper training and ought to get background checks to prove that he or she can be trusted." Yes, when it comes to many fields and needs I agree that such training and due diligence must be done. But, in scripture, an advocate is anyone who speaks up for the powerless and to see that their needs are met. Parents, especially when our children have special needs, call ourselves advocates for our children. Lawyers call themselves advocates for their clients. This week, though, I was speaking with a dear friend who mentioned that looking out for one person and giving ourselves to saving or helping one person, is also advocacy. Put this way, being and acting as advocates is well within the reach of each and every one of us. We just have to keep our eyes and ears open to the needs around us.

Abuse. In light of the current Jodie Arias trial, those of us who have even casually been following it can see how the defendant has used the "abuse" defense to try to reduce her consequences or get out of them completely. We can also use the words domestic violence or intimate partner violence. Yes, over the years I have heard the words abuse and domestic violence being tossed around, in everything from survival stories and memoirs to criminal cases in the defense of offenders. For years now, it seems that the disclosure of some kind of abuse has become very common, I daresay almost fashionable. Traditionally, abuse and domestic or intimate partner violence have been taken to mean physical abuse. Only in recent decades has abuse been recognized as a broad umbrella, including emotional, verbal, spiritual, sexual and financial abuse. Today in out high-tech age abuse has become electronic and can be called cyber-abuse. Now it is widely recognized that emotional abuse is at the foundation of all other forms of abuse or it can stand alone. Abuse is a sustained pattern of behavior. Currently, only physical and sexual abuse are legally recognized as abuse and can be prosecuted. The bad thing about abuse being recognized as a broad umbrella and on a spectrum is that the word is often used irresponsibly to refer to normal but unwelcome actions or words. But the good thing about abuse being recognized as a spectrum and a wide umbrella is that there is so much more awareness and support for victims and survivors. This is life, however; we must take the bad with the good. Personally, I much prefer that abuse is recognized as a broad spectrum. As I write this and the jury in the Jodie Arias trial has begun deliberations about her guilt/innocence, I know that the way the words domestic violence and abuse were tossed around throughout this entire trial will influence the verdict that this jury comes back with.

There are so many other words that have many different meanings but I picked these six words because they are commonly used in my world. Words carry much power when they are used responsibly, honestly and in the proper context. When they are misused they can cause much damage, even life-threatening harm.
Photo Courtesy of Bookwriting Macro This photo can be found here.
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