Thoughts are things, this is an old (!) New-Thought concept, still alive and well. Thoughts and concepts also have different levels of quality, one could even say carats.
Imagine Christmas Eve when a quarrel ensues because one of the children thinks it unfair that his sister’s toy is bigger and more expensive. We tell the children that this is — childish. We inspire them to rise above that kind of thinking.
— Do not compare your presents in such a nitpicking, scroogy, mercantile way! Be happy for what you get, independently of what others get.
Adults regard this as a better, more mature way of thinking. Instead of comparing sizes and prices we can look at things from a higher perspective, something that also is needed in peace work and peace play.
So quite obviously there are different quality levels of thinking, perspectives with higher and lower carats. And this also concerns the terms and concepts of our everyday conversation and debates.
We talk about economy, democracy, growth, feminism, gender, leadership, industrial and developing countries, without making much distinction as to the levels of these words.
Simone Weil has an interesting perspective on this. She was a philosopher, a contemporary Christian mystic and almost (or actually) a saint, but what follows here is clear and tangible, practical enough even for a largely materialistic world.
According to her there are high, elevated words. Her examples are God, truth, justice, love, beauty, good.
And there are words coming from a lower, middle region: rights, democracy, persons.
She suggests that we as much as possible use the high words as guiding lights, not the lower ones. That might sound good in an abstract, religious way. But it also has a practical value in relation to peace and harmonious living on the planet.
“All that is necessary is to confine ourselves to those words and phrases
which always, everywhere, in all circumstances express only the good.”
In other words, use only the elevated, high carat words.
So how can this be tested? Let’s follow Simone’s thought and see where it leads us.
TEST FOR SUITABLE WORDS
Weil is very much concerned with the poor and afflicted. In a world with enormous inequalities between poor and rich (“asymmetry” is a non-committal word for it) this is something very relevant. How do we address the afflicted? What do we tell them, using what words?
Simone: “The afflicted are overwhelmed with evil and starving for good. The only words suitable for them are those which express nothing but good, in its pure state.”
So let us skip words of the middle region and go straight to the higher concepts.
— Sounds fine again, you say. In an idealistic, religious, philosophical way.
Well, being “philosophical” is doctor’s orders for a creature that calls himself Homo sapiens. So let’s go beyond surfing the surface of things and dive deeper. In the gym we understand the value of heavy weights; let’s lift some substantial thoughts.
The way to discriminate between higher and lower, Simone suggests, is to look at kinship, associations and corruptibility. “Words which can be associated with something signifying an evil are alien to pure good.”
If a concept has a reverse, a dark downside, let’s be wary of it.
Such a word can be “person”. “We are criticizing a man when we say: ‘He puts his person forward’; therefore the person is alien to good.”
Clear enough. Putting personal considerations first — for example if you are the leader of a state, thus having the job of serving and helping your country — is considered base and low.
“Democracy”, an immensely popular and viral word and concept, also needs to be looked at. “We can speak of an abuse of democracy; therefore democracy is alien to good.”
Nothing shocking here; we knew this. Democracy has a reverse, a downside, and many stupid and downright awful things can be committed in its name.
“Rights” are next. “To possess a right implies the possibility for making good or bad use of it; therefore rights are alien to good.”
Now, rights (The Rights of Man) are considered holy by many. Which in effect means that we are not inclined to actually THINK about them, just sing AMEN and HALLELUJAH. Again not a very sapient thing to do.
Simone perceptively points out the nuances of the word “right”. (My underlining throughout.)
The word “evokes a latent war and awakens the spirit of contention. To place the notion of rights at the center of social conflicts is to inhibit any possible impulse of charity on both sides.”
The word does not bring charity or generosity, it rather helps us (and often we do not require pressing) to move into conflict, competition and strife. Maybe even war.
A longer quote.
“Thanks to this word, what should have been a cry of protest
from the depth of the heart has been turned into a shrill nagging of
claims and counter-claims. The notion of rights … has a commercial flavour, essentially evocative of legal claims and arguments.
“Rights are always asserted in a tone of contention; and when this tone is adopted, it must rely upon force in the background, or else it will be laughed at.”
“This bargaining spirit was already implicit in the notion of
rights which the men of 1789 so unwisely made the keynote of their
deliberate challenge to the world.”
BETTER THAN RIGHT
So the word “right” brings into our discussions (which are perhaps already directed towards personal or group advantages) a shrill note, a commercial flavour, a bargaining spirit. It is often plain egoistical.
There is also a difference in carat between working for the rights of others and ourselves. The former activity can be driven by a genuine sense of justice coming from the heart, while the latter can be an official formality, or egoistical hunt for personal gain.
Clearly the difference is not that hard to see.
–Good enough, you say. What word should we use instead?
Good is not a bad word. Simone herself suggest “justice” as a higher concept. I do not fully agree. For me that word sounds very vague and it is not a clear concept. Very often it is aligned with, almost a synonym to, rights.
I would suggest that a concept like fair-play could be better than rights. Why? Because it takes both sides into consideration, and also appeals to our sense of justice, not just points to a set of legislative rules and regulations.
When considering peace, moving towards cordial harmony rather than egoistical discord, the question of right words is not marginal but central. Harmony is higher than discord or dissonance – which can be a matter of just letting things devolve into entropy and emotional-intellectual chaos.
Harmony demands much more: heart, attention and true intelligence, which partly means discrimination. So let us, in the name of peace, even Venusian peace, discriminate between high and low, mercantile and truly humane words.
One can discuss not only the building bricks (words) but also the manner of speaking / writing. Writing can be more or less including or excluding, populist or elitist.
My aim is basically always to write for, not the masses or the specialists but the intelligent laymen — those who ARE stressed by information overload but still not so averse to thinking outside the box that they want everything to be instant, pre-chewed, totally painless and soundbite-y. Bon appetite.