Thursday, September 08, 2005

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Languaging about the Hurricane


... A word I don't like to use, being something of a purist. It's a made-up word.

Language is a behavior, and a powerful loop. It's how we express our emotions and intelligence and it also influences emotions and intelligence. We cannot have a feeling without a thought attached to it, and that "thought" is framed in words. Language also effects those around us, just as their language effects us. It matters, for instance, how you report something to someone. "This is a catastrophe that's going to destroy this business," v. "There's a serious problem right now. We're working on it."

Barring physical force, language is how we get what we want, influence, motivate, inspire, forbid -- in other words, how we move the world, and ourselves.

Having a word for something allows us to "know" it and gives us a sense of power over it. It can allow us to deal with it intelligently, intellectually, with reason and logic. It allows us to know "it" from "something else," and choose strategies. We realize our anger is from fear, and it changes things. We realize we can sit and cry about the job we lost, or we can cry while we spruce up our resume and start networking.

This is the power of a secret, the power of the name Yahweh. Something very powerful is something that doesn't have a name (because it's incomprensible), or has a name but we aren't allowed to say it. Who gets to say it, i.e., who gets to "know" it, is dictated by the powers that be.

Often when someone gives us a name for our issue or problem, we can then move forward. That's empowerment, i.e., becoming empowered, or having power.

It's a great moment in a baby's life when he learns the word "no." Instead of pushing the thing away, or screaming, or crying, or hitting, he can utter the word "NO" and -- at least some of the time -- the thing of offense will go away.

That's power.

The power of language.

Those of us who have lived through the cultural retraining in terms of "all men are created equal," know the power of language and how it both influences and is influenced by feelings, attitudes and values.


Consider how you and those around you refer to Hurricane Katrina and the events in New Orleans.

I chose what I considered the most "neutral" way to state that. I did not use words such as "disaster" or "calamity" to describe what happened, or adjectives such as "devastating," or "horrible". I got as close to cold facts as I could. Cold meaning not emotional.

THE WORDS WE USE IN REGARDS TO HURRICANE KATRINA, PERSONALLY, AS A NATION, AND AS A WORLD, WILL BE INFLUENTIAL. Who dictates the language? The media? The leaders? You and I? The words used will shape your thinking, so pay attention and accept or reject it, but recognizing your ability to choose.

According to the fascinating GLOBAL LANGUAGE MONITOR (GLM) here's the way it's being played, in order of use of the words globally.

1. Disaster -- The most common, and perhaps neutral, description. Literally 'against the stars' in Latin. Example: "Disaster bares divisions of race and class across the Gulf states". Toronto Globe and Mail.

2. Biblical -- Used as an adjective. Referring to the scenes of death, destruction and mayhem chronicled in the Bible. " ...a town of 6,800 where corpses lie amid a scene of Biblical devastation". (The Times, London)

3. Global Warming -- The idea that the hand of man was directly responsible for the catastrophe, as opposed to the more neutral climate change. "...German Environmental Minister Jrgen Trittin remains stolid in his assertion that Hurricane Katrina is linked to global warming and America's refusal to reduce emissions." (Der Spiegel)

4. Hiroshima/Nuclear Destruction -- Fresh in the mind of the media, following the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. "Struggling with what he calls Hurricane Katrina's nuclear destruction, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour shows the emotional strain of leading a state through a disaster of biblical proportions". (Associated Press).

5. Catastrophe -- Sudden, often disastrous overturning, ruin, or undoing of a system. "In the Face of Catastrophe, Sites Offer Helping Hands". (Washington Post)

6. Holocaust -- Because of historical association, the word is seldom used to refer to death brought about by natural causes. " December's Asian catastrophe should have elevated "tsunami" practically to the level of "holocaust" in the world vocabulary, implying a loss of life beyond compare and as callous as this might make us seem, Katrina

7. Apocalypse -- Referring to the prophetic visions of the imminent destruction of the world, as found in the Book of Revelations. "Call it apocalyptic. Whatever you want to call it, take your pick. There were bodies floating past my front door," said Robert Lewis, who was rescued as floodwaters invaded his home. (Reuters)

8. End of the World -- End-time scenarios which presage the Apocalypse. " "This is like time has stopped Its like the end of the world." (Columbus Dispatch)

9. Then there are those in the media linking Katrina with the direct intervention of the hand of an angry or vengeful God, though not necessarily aligned with America's enemies. "The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah, But Not an Adherent of Al-Qaeda," was written by a high-ranking Kuwaiti official, Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi, director of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowment's research center. It was published in Al-Siyassa. (Kuwait).

What do you think about these different words? How do you feel about their use? Take some time today to apply this think/feel paradigm today as you speak and listen to those around you.

  • Is your word choice emotionally loaded? Incendiary, for instance ("You touch that television one more time and you're grounded for a week.") or depressing ("There's no use even thinking about it. There's nothing you can do about it.")
  • Is it passive? ("I'd sure like a new computer but I guess you'd never give me one.")
  • Is it intimidating, designed to scare and silence the other ("If I'd wanted your opinion I would have asked for it in the first place. Just stay out of it.")
  • Is it politically correct, aka neutral of emotion and values? Do you want it to be?


    In reporting the recent London bombings, the BBC chose to use the terms "misguided criminals" and "bombers" instead of the term "terroristS," stating that they wanted to avoid words that "carry emotional or value judgments."

    What is the Current `global Language`?

    Vote for: English
    Vote for: Chinese
    Vote for: Spanish
    Vote for: French

    GLOBAL LANGUAGE MONITOR is also featuring a list of definitions of the words you might not be familiar with in relation to the hurricane. Here are a few of the ones they DEFINE:

    Hurricane -- A tropical cyclone with a sustained surface wind is 74 mph (118 kmh) or more. A hurricane is called a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean.

    Acadian -- French-speaking people who were expelled from Nova Scotia 250 years ago and settle in the bayou

    Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) - responsible for investigating, developing and maintaining the nation's water and environmental resources

    Breach -- Sudden overpowering of a levee, or a floodwall, that allows water to seep or rush in.

    Cajun -- Literally, Louisianan who descends from French-speaking Acadians, who in 1755 were expelled from Nova Scotia.

    Eye -- The center of the hurricane where the skies are clear and the wind is nearly calm.

    FEMA -- Federal Emergency Management Agency, branch of the US Homeland Security Department. FEMA coordinates the US Federal government's response to national disasters.

    Others include category, climate change, Creole, floating casinos, flood control, flood stage, flood wall, global warming, isobar, knot, levee, National Guard, Public Health Emergency, pumping stations ... and more.

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