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Language and values

Sometimes language contains deep truths, showing us things we mightn’t be quite aware of through the words we’ve chosen. The very act of talking can lead to revelation in that way, if we reflect upon the true meaning of what we may’ve said. In that, I’m thinking more on the personal level; but musings over language’s social meaning suggest the same logic might serve us there as well.

It’s an intriguing thought how so many terms have either an economic or a human meaning: trust; concern; bond; risk; security; responsibility; profit; contribution; return; provision; liability; worth. The human side often being very human, based around qualities of character and personal significance; the economic side more calculating in a different sense.

Obviously it’s just a thought, but it does seem to highlight ways society’s changed and how that echoes through our use of language. How we live our lives, what we prioritise and value, the criteria we use to guide our decisions – all this is reflected within the words we employ and what we mean by them. The relationship of language to reality, both in representing it and shaping it, is surely incredibly fascinating.

And it seems few would deny that economic concerns really do lead modern society with quite a strong hand (see Notes One), seeking to define our priorities in fields of life where we might have argued it has no place (Notes Two). All of which is interesting and more than a little troubling, although that’s not really my focus here.

If language reflects our understanding of life, then what does it mean if we’re shifting towards this economic perspective? Language is a human function: it’s how we represent the world, form our ideas, relate ourselves to it, and share in that with others. It can be seen as this web of meaning we create and partake in; making sense of life, society, and our roles and relationships within it all.

What does it mean then if our conversations and decisions are so largely defined by money, rather than humanity? Clearly there comes a point where finance and individuals meet, where it becomes a factor in our lives and we have to decide how to proceed (Notes Three). But, beyond that, how do we stand in relation to others?

Because my point is that we stand as people within society; society as this community organised for the collective benefit of its members. Within that, presumably, we have a shared understanding of human worth and the behaviours serving to strengthen rather than weaken this grouping of individuals. Culture and education may help with that, but more often it seems the economics of life are speaking more loudly.

To my mind, we talk about money or about people. Economy may be vital to meeting societal and individual needs, but when we equate that with human worth and make it a means for assessing value and assigning respect for another’s participation in society it seems something to be deeply concerned about.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Values and the economic
Note 1: Life and money, seamlessly interwoven
Note 1: Economy & Humanity
Note 2: Culture selling us meaning
Note 2: Why listen to media that exists to profit?
Note 2: Economics and the task of education
Note 3: I am not just a sum
Note 3: The business of spiritual ideas
Note 3: How it is / Selling out

These ideas are echoed in The worth of each life, looking there from a more personal standpoint.

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