Buzzwords: the words that break or build us

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Illustration by Lydia Wojack-West

There is no denying that we are in the midst of the most divisive time in recent history (because the great and all-knowing interweb tells us so). News sites and Facebook are full of articles jam-packed with the back and forth banter of opposite opinions, each side clinging to buzzwords that identify and argue their avowed positions.

Marches and protests awash with cries of change take center stage in a movement of a generation.

Free speech is a given in our country, at least for the time being, but what are we actually saying? As a writer I understand the true influence of words—how they can be infectious, how they can be used without thought or consequence. I have to wonder how many people even read most of those articles before they are clicked and shared with the haste and fervor that can only be fueled by FOMO (fear of missing out, in case you live under a rock).

We use words as necessary and effective tools for communication, and sharing those instruments that have been established for shaping common ideas is part of how the work gets done. The responsibility that comes with our words is massive, though I think people lose sight of that with the viral nature in which they are used.

But what if we were to back up a couple of steps and take an objective and demonstrable look at the words that keep spilling out of our mouths and keyboards?

The power of these strung-together vowels and consonants is exponential, and the ways in which we can utilize these tools are infinite.

Attending my fare share of recent marches and rallies and perusing the internet for the latest atrocities has led to my own compilation of terms that represent how words are being wielded these days.

Many of these utterances can be considered positive: overcome, acceptance, power, support, peace, rise, unity, rights, intersectionality, and—arguably the most conspicuous of the moment—inclusive.

These are words meant to bring us together and help understand each other, to remind ourselves that we aren’t alone or fundamentally that different from one another.

But what does inclusive really mean?

Varying dictionaries define it similarly as encompassing stated parameters of people, ideas, land, etc. In no definition anywhere does it say that inclusion is limited to one’s own set of ideals or standards unless discussing within certain structures.

Inclusivity in the framework of a nation or world of people, along with the issues related to them, cannot be limited in this way. In its definition as an adjective, inclusive means all encompassing and all embracing. As such it can be a powerful instrument for social awareness.

For as many affirmative buzzwords that can be attributed to the movement, there seems to be quadruple that can be viewed as negative. Terms like revolt, riot, subvert, stop, fight, rebel, protest, resist, destabilize, impeach, agitate, overthrow, and—in my opinion the most combative of the bunch—hate.

I’m not saying that there is no place for these words or that they cannot be used as powerful devices for change, I’m simply imploring people to think about their intentions before spewing hate-mongering in a repetitive and ineffectual way.

There is an inspiring middle-ground where buzzwords are being used as agents of communication. A barrage of language attempting to frame current mindsets has been thrown in the mix and is quite possibly the ingredient we need to form a true melting pot of understanding.

Terminology that is descriptive, such as democracy, boycott, march, demonstrate, organize, regime, occupy, socialism, and take-back are words of action. Even the controversial and colorful terms nasty and pussy have become forces of affirmative progress.

Ultimately, we have to decide how we want to utilize the devices we create in our world. Words are easily the most accessible and powerful tools at our disposal, but it is up to us to be our own checks and balances system. Buzzwords are great if we know what we are saying and can stand behind our own voices.

We manifest the world we live in. What kind of world do you want that to be?

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