I haven't been blogging very much lately; I just haven't been in a mood to write. I wonder at times if this is it? Have I said all I have to say, and no more is left? I hope not. I have begun with a title and written this much - let's see what comes.
As a child, I wondered why it was wrong to call a fat person "fat" or call a short person "short." I wondered why we said "passed away" instead of "died," why it was better to say "enhanced coercive interrogation technique" than "torture," or a bunch of other such examples.
At that age it felt like lying. Now it seems to me that all of these words represent an act of dehumanization instead of the intended act of compassion. I am who I am - whether that's brown, white, thin, fat, dumb, smart, ugly or whatever. I am who I am.
When someone euphemizes me, they take something away from my self. An obvious and defining characteristic or aspect of me is suddenly made generic.
Is a fat person also heavy? Yes. But "heavy" is intended not to offend, though the meaning is the same. But if the meaning is the same, then how is it less-offensive to be considered heavy instead of fat? Haven't we just insulted this person by assuming they're too dumb to notice that "heavy" is equally as pejorative? Shouldn't we rather be truthful?
When we euphemize, we generalize, we profile, we stereotype, and we assume that all of "them" are one. Every member of this "xxx" group is now the same. We've erased their individuality, voice and power.
Euphemisms convert people into demographic variables. The individual is killed.
But we don't confine our euphemistic ways to individuals - politics and business are equally "blessed."
President Truman called Korean War a "Police Action" - he did this for political reasons - to make it seem smaller and less than it was. The soldiers and civilians that died couldn't tell the difference, they were just as dead irrespective of the President's spin. In this case, the goal was to dupe a nation and even other countries into thinking a thing was more benign that it was. There are many others: "revenue enhancements" instead of raising taxes, "collateral damage" instead of military screw-ups, etc. The political world is rife with them, and in the end, they all serve to perpetuate lies.
This happens in business too, examples include "right-sizing" or "volume-based involuntary reductions" instead of layoffs and firings, "market corrections" instead of stock market collapses, "earnings restatements" instead of accounting failures, etc. Here's one a hospital network used recently: "negative patient care outcome" instead of deaths - imagine being told that your parent or sibling or child were unfortunately a negative outcome.
When you read these in a document or hear them in a presentation, you don't really realize what's being said; it's not clear even whether it's a bad thing (I suppose that's the goal), and what ends up happening? Middle management will euphemize poor results, failures, screw-ups when talking to upper management so that they don't look bad, but then the leaders have incomplete (bad) information and the company can't make good decisions.
In every case - personal, political, or business, we euphemize to take the edge off, and in doing so, we sacrifice clarity, we sacrifice truth, and worst of all, we avoid facing reality.
Try stopping yourself from using euphemisms - they are so entrenched in our vocabulary, our behavior, our very thought processes that it's almost impossible to be truly truthful - whether to yourself or those around you.
We say that children can be really cruel because they are unfiltered - I prefer cruelty and facing reality to killing with kindness.