Menkel-Meadow: Words Matter

Over at the Constructive Conflict Initiative Blog, friend of Indisputably the incomparable Carrie Menkel-Meadow (UC-Irvine) has written an interesting post about the words that can we can all use moving forward to get past the difficulty of politicization of words.

It’s long and completely worth your time to check out.

In our complicated times of COVID-19 and increased activism around racial injustice, it might be important to step back and consider how slogans both help and hurt us and to think about how we, as conflict resolution professionals, might “reframe” and recraft some words for concepts that are more likely to word-paint with more inclusive, rather than dividing, words and to spur our thinking for more protean and creative possible ideas for solutions.

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Is it possible to craft new words and ideas that will also lead us to more engagement and better ideas?

Here are a few thoughts:

  1.   How about “We are all interdependent!” We need each other. Germs jump from person to person. All of us want to live and flourish, so we need to figure out how to do it together. I teach international law—our evil leaders may try to close borders, but this virus knows how to jump them! This flies somewhat in the face of American individualism and exceptionalism, but guess what, we are not so exceptional and we need others to survive.
  1.   To do that we have to learn to trust each other (and how about, science, facts and data too!). What are the conditions in which trust is developed, earned and kept (as well as lost)? And  how do we treat each other “fairly” – a very complicated philosophical concept, but deeply felt by every ordinary human being.
  1.   But rational data is not enough, as I have often written, we need to empathize and feel with (the original translation of empathy) others—even those outside of our kinship “tribes”, nations or other affiliations. I am not a religious person (feminism is my religion, along with what Ethical Culture meant to me as a child) but I am a spiritual one—we are on this earth together, through viruses, hurricanes, tsunamis, cyclones, earthquakes and fires, as well as sunrises and sunsets—and we need to feel some connection to others to solve or at least survive these crises. We need science, but we need faith, that we can help each other in hard times and that people can get better and improve themselves, both for themselves and for future generations.  How about “We are ALL In IT together,” even if we go out alone. If rational argument does not work, we have learned, feeling the pain of others can move us (not walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, but doing it with their, not your, feet!).  What can we do to help very different people understand the world from other people’s experiences (guided mediation, travel, films, books, music) and most importantly, daily interaction with people who are different, but also human.

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