Smelly words and barricades
Have you noticed how some people use little words to negate all you've said. There you are grappling with a difficult concept, reaching out to try to understand what is going on around you, getting below the surface and going beyond what is generally taken for granted, when the person opposite you says: "I find your utopian vision rather interesting. The word utopian here acts like a nasty smell: once released it spreads around and hangs in the air, casting doubts, creating suspicions and turning up noses. And once there's a nasty smell in the air, straight thinking becomes somewhat difficult. Whether what you said has anything to do with utopia or not is of no relevance. Another such word is intellectual. What the word really means is I don't want to bother to think about what you are talking about or possibly even You terrify me the way you uncover things I'd much rather not think about. There is a whole subtext to these words, a discourse within the discourse whispering quite a different message, but you will not be able to address it directly. The person you are talking to stands behind barricades of pragmatism, years of solid experience and, above all, material success and hard-won self-assurance. And the more you let down your barriers in a heartfelt quest for understanding and learning, the more such a person shores up his or her defences. If you make the mistake of trying to address the word itself, utopian or intellectual, things can only get worse. Firstly, it distracts you from what you were trying to understand. Secondly, it reinforces the negating impact of the word on anything you have to say. And finally, it leads you on a wild goose chase, because the real issue is not whether you are utopian or not, or whether you are intellectual or not, but rather that maybe what you are doing frightens the person opposite you.
Alan McCluskey, Belfast.Share or comment
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