A recurring theme this year in my talks to the children has been the importance of words. By that I mean to convey to all our students that how we use words, what words we use, and what we mean by the words we use has significance. Words matter. That I should make this claim should not surprise anyone, since I am in the business of schooling. If there is one thing a school should focus on, it ought to be words. We teach our students how to read words, how to understand words, how to write words, how to solve word problems, how express thoughts and ideas using words, how to translate words, how to use better words, how to capture beauty in words, and how to be affected by words. Words matter.
Our community depends on words. By that I mean that human flourishing depends on communication by way of words, and it also depends obviously upon a shared understanding of those words. In the late 90’s I was doing graduate work in education and was introduced to the idea of post-modernism by a professor. This was at a college that was listed as one of the top conservative Christian liberal arts schools at the time. However, this professor was no conservative. As I sought to understand the philosophy, the professor explained that “words have no fixed meaning.” My fellow students in the room all seemed to agree and nodded knowingly. I was much younger but even then realized how absurd the idea was. Unfortunately, I blurted out as much. The professor pushed back, so I explained why I thought the idea was seriously flawed. I suggested that since we are Christians (it was a Christian college), we have all come to believe the written Word of God. Salvation is given to us by means of words, that is, by way of believing the good news or the Gospel. If we lose words, we lose the Word of God, we lose the Gospel and salvation, and we lose the knowledge of God. We lose everything. If it wasn’t Michigan in the winter time, I would have heard crickets. Instead the only reply was the hum of the florescent lights. We sat there in silence, a very awkward silence. Finally, the professor responded, “Well, that’s an interesting perspective.” I should have pushed the issue and asked if the professor believed the words on her employment contract had fixed meaning, or the words of her doctrinal dissertation, or even the words she was using to teach the class. Post-modernism is a worldview that is unsustainable because in the real world words mean something, words matter.
The reason I bring this up today is that Merriam-Webster just released the 2022 “Word of the Year.” The famous English dictionary publisher determines the word of the year by the frequency of searches for the word on their online dictionary. The word this year is GASLIGHTING. The word refers to a 1944 psychological thriller titled “Gaslight” starring Ingrid Bergman. In the film, the evil husband tries to convince his wife that she is going insane by turning down the gas lighting in the house. When his wife notices and comments, he denies it and suggests she delusional. That and so many other lies begin to convince the poor woman that perhaps she is losing touch with reality.
Today, the word is used to describe the constant media barrage that seems to be spewing out false and misleading information. It is almost as if someone is intentionally trying to make us question our sanity. We are living and raising our children in a society in which a Supreme Court Justice claimed to not know how to define “women,” our Federal Legislature doesn’t know what “marriage” means, “they/them” is considered a singular pronoun, and “pride,” “healthcare,” and “tolerance” don’t really mean what you think they mean. However, words matter. The constant misuse of words may make you feel like you are going crazy; but in reality, that is when you know that we are being subjected to gaslighting.
So, turn up the lights and study the words. Words have meaning and words matter. Our children don’t need “safe spaces” from words, they need right and good words. They need to recognize false words and respond with strong words of their own. Here at Bradford Academy we will continue to train this generation to handle words well. We do it with confidence because we have a fixed and unchangeable Word from God.
Peace and grace.