Thursday, September 11, 2008

Careful with Words

Recently, Senator Barak Obama, in speaking to a crowd of political supporters, used the old adage, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig." Now this has sparked controversy since Governor Sarah Palin has somewhat staked claim to "lipstick" references with her comment at the Republican National Convention: "Do you know the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick." Therefore, even though the "lipstick on a pig" adage is older than this present political year, thus leading Senator Obama to claim that he was suggesting that his opponent is offerning nothing new in terms of policy, the viewing public (and certainly the crowd present at his speech) understood him to be calling Governor Palin a "pig." Whether or not Senator Obama meant such an association cannot be definitively determined. In every way he claims to not have meant that. However, at the very least his words were ill-chosen in light of how they would be interpreted by the hearers. At worst, campaign frustrations got the better of him, and he blurted out (in a moment of spontaneous sincerity) his thoughts about Governor Palin. At best, he was careless with his words, not reflecting on how they would be taken in light of her previous "lipstick" reference.

We can benefit from Senator Obama's lesson. Words are powerful bullets that , once fired, cannot be recalled. How many times have we all said something that we wish we could have taken back? One of the reasons that email is such a primitive and crude means of communication (and lousy as a conversation tool) is because if words aren't carefully chosen with exact and gracious precision, once you click "send," it's gone...on it's way. One of the mottos I have for this season of life is "think more...speak less." I haven't adhered as strickly to this motto as I wish, but it helps to remember. I get embarressed when I think of how often I've let slip something and then later thought, "oo, that was bad."

I don't know if Senator Obama is thinking that today, or if he's mired in self-justification. In a politcal season, I don't expect that any politician (Republican or Democrat) would ever admit to having misspoken. This is pathetic, and renders all politcal figures somehow less deserving of respect. We, however, do not have to follow their example. We can be careful with words, knowing that if we slip and speak the wrong words, we had better be quick to admit it and apologize for them. This is how real people operate. But being careful with our words at the front end makes it less likely we'll hurt someone anyway, with whom we would need to reconcile later.

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