Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Responses: Replies, Reflections, Responses

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Responses: Replies, Reflections, Responses

Article excerpt

In "Syat Vaada: The Virtue of Openness" (ETC, January 2008), Swami Sukhabodhananda wrote about ways to speak conditionally rather than in absolute terms. The Jain precept of Syat Vaada is very much akin to the general semantics notion of "to me-ness"--Eds.

Learning to be Relative


For my entire life I have referred to things in absolute terms. People were successful or unsuccessful at their respective tasks, things were either to my liking or disliking, and items were only spoken of as they appear at that moment. My use of the verb "to be" has been both frequent and careless. Immediately ceasing all use of the verb "to be" (except in those rare situations where it applies) looks like an insurmountable task. Even the amount of effort it is taking me to refrain from using it excessively in this letter is notable. Over the course of my lifetime, I have been exposed to the misuse of absolute terminology

to the point where it appears to be my natural manner of speaking, a manner of speaking which, until I read Sukhabodhananda's article, I never regarded as inappropriate or dishonest.

Like many people, I frequently feel overwhelmed by the relentless advertising which seems to dominate our culture. Every time I turn on the television or drive down the highway, product producers, service providers, and promoters bombard me with images and sounds, each of them telling me (in no uncertain terms) that their respective commodity "is" exactly what I need. The audacity of these advertisers never fails to amaze me. "How dare they presume to know my needs," I think, all the while using absolutes myself to make my words powerful, to make my words sell. It is clear to me now that my own use of "to be" is no less dishonest or obnoxious than the advertisements which presume to know my needs and wants.

Absolute terms are not a necessity of the language. Rather, their overuse is usually little more than contemporary vernacular. Therefore, breaking such a habit could prove extremely difficult but not impossible. Having been conditioned to such a great extent, I will have to make a conscious effort to change my use of words. I believe that the best place to start is with my writing. Writing, unlike other forms of verbalization, usually affords the writer the time they need to carefully consider their word choice. I will take special care to avoid labeling things, never saying they "are" of a certain quality but rather stating that they "appear to be" or "are to the extent of my knowledge." In doing so, I improve my writing by avoiding absolutes (which are nearly always untrue) and begin re-conditioning myself to speak in less absolute prose.

In "I Remember Being Born, " Loel B. Shuler (ETC, April, 2008) suggests that there are profound memories in the nonverbal parts of the brain that impact our lives and behavior without our having a clue that they even exist.

The Implications of a Memory


What is at the core of human behavior? In today's social climate, many ask themselves this question. What determines the way in which one thinks and perceives the world? Are humans essentially the product of their nature, or are they a result of their nurture? At the most basic level, how are we derived? Loel Shuler states that she has memories of infantile childhood, far before most would say they can recall. She says that she can remember the womb and her own birth. She even posits that everyone has some remnant of a birth memory. Could her memory be authentic and her hypothesis correct? If so, how might this affect the way in which one addresses some of the aforementioned questions?

Many scientists believe that tangible memories do not begin to form until the second or third year of a child's life, the time when language begins to take hold in the brain. At this point the brain begins to recognize the world around it and to understand it. …

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