Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Power of Words

Words have many different meanings and connotations. Often, for unworthy purposes, words are created to influence others, and sometimes used sarcastically.  A seminary professor introduces us to the Korean word 'jongbuk,' which can be taken to mean a sympathizer of North Korea or a North Korean slave. In most cases it's used as an abusive term for those who want a closer relationship with those living in the North.
People using language that is coarse and confrontational, he says, only helps to divide the country into different factions. Conservatives, "for lack of a better word,"  often see the liberal forces in society as "reds" and "commies." The appearance of the word 'jongbuk' to describe those who would like to see a closer relationship with the North is one manifestation of this conservative mindset. The far right have tried to make the opposition party, which lost the recent election, the 'jongbuk' party. 
What reason gave rise to the word? he asks. Is it the present division of the country? The persons who have suffered and continue to suffer from this situation are the weak of society, but this is not a sufficient reason, he says, for the appearance of the word. Is it the large number of pro-North Koreans in our society? Or is it the plan of those who are trying to instill fear and the bring about a more security-conscious government that encourages this 'jongbuk' thinking, resorting to charges, as in the past, of 'red' and 'commie.'

Because of the word 'jongbuk,' hostility and exclusiveness are being nourished in our society, the professor says. When we stop asking the question, why? words like jongbuk begin to spread throughout society. The abusive tone associated with the word, he believes is a sign that the ability to communicate has been lost and fear and irritation becomes the reality. It shows the poverty of our words and the thinking that is influencing our politics, media, history and academia.

When we cease to question the words we use and feel uncomfortable asking "why," the professor is convinced that words like 'jongbuk' will appear, used ignorantly. When this is done we are mercilessly doing harm to many. Looking at history we see  this kind of thinking repeated often. The life of Jesus is an easy example of the harm that arises from ignorance. They were not able to find anything against him worthy of death and yet because of ignorance and bigotry, death was the result.
This type of thinking develops into the crimes frequently committed in the past and in the present century. 'Why' is a word that comes easy to mind, says the professor. In a democratic society we are not restrained in its use; in the face of all kinds of power we are able to express our questioning. When this questioning attitude disappears, democracy, viable politics, history, academia and religion will not fare well. And our hope that the history of suffering of so many will be only a past memory will also disappear.  

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