Sunday, January 29, 2006

don't worry, I'm still me

For those of you who seem to be getting worried about where all this bible reading etc is taking me, fear not I'm still me! So much so that when I saw this blog it made me laugh so much my sides ached (sorry Dad, I'll have a go at new pop up windows another time, for now I'm using the clever 'link' button which gets you what you're given with no techie input on my behalf...).

I can remember heated discussions on PC language in the past and finding myself on both sides of the fence. I've no idea quite what I was arguing with Dad about years ago when he hit me with the retort "so I suppose you think it should be 'Personchester' then" (as opposed to Manchester, a city over the hill from where we lived - kinda loses something when you have to explain!) but I was obviously advocating more inclusive language (possibly not using 'chairman' but chair/chairperson - my arguement for that being if the person is female then in terms of plain speaking chairman is inaccurate) and I took a high heid yin from head office to task when working for the Employment Dept for repeatedly talking about 'manning the desk' at a New Horizons For Women conference (all about empowering women) - he was decidedly non-plussed with my suggestion of 'staffing' but did eventually take the hint! But on the other hand I've had run ins with CYPC over Rosy Glows vs Cosy Glows, or Affirmation Sheets as they call them here - doesn't have the same ring to it but it sure takes the PC issue away - allegedly people of colour don't blush so 'Rosy' was deemed inappropriate - the fact that I'd always seen it as the fiery warm glow you get inside when reading them, not the colour of your face (these things aren't there to make you blush but to feel good about yourself) and the fact that fire is um, well 'rosy' is apparently beside the point. We agreed to differ in the end.

During my daily perusal of the Quaker blogosphere I came across a comment on someone's blog which referred to the pain felt by some Black American Friends at the use of the term 'overseer', it having for them the connotations of plantations etc. Lorcan's point was about us losing the ability to use certain words, like God, Jesus etc without causing offence to others. It does strike me as sad that so many words these days are being lost to us. In discussion at the Triennial with two YFs from the more christocentric tradition about spiritual language and my sense that I just didn't have the vocabulary to explain myself they asked why I didn't reclaim the language I did know as my own. Reclaim it but at the same time explain what I meant by it, when I did often I would find that others actually meant the same thing too even though I had assumed that coming from a more 'conventional' christian tradition they would mean something else by it. That discussion with Carla and Kayla made WGYF possible for me, it opened my eyes to a lot that I had rejected without really hearing because I had assumed I knew what people meant ('never assume anything' was the most sensible piece of advice I was given when I worked at Garvald and one I should remember more often!). Maybe rather than bending over backwards to avoid using certain words we should work towards reclaiming them, especially for the sake of those who have been hurt by them - face your fear and use it anyway?

The danger is when explaining what you mean by words and at the same time are trying not to offend anyone else you are in serious danger of ending up sounding like something from a Monty Python sketch or The [non offensive] 23rd Psalm...


Lorcan said...

Dear Anna:
It is really nice finding thy blog, and I'm added it to my links. I'm not in favor of taking Jesus out of messages... it is a more subtle difference. I had a great talk with another Christocentric young Friend this morning, about the difference in seeing Jesus and the Jesus movement as being a huge turning point in the history of religious thought, making Quakerism a eventual inevitability, in fact elements of our faith kept popping up and being put down as heresy in mainstream Christianity ( one finds a lot of common ground in Catharism and Quakerism... ). What I am saying is NOT that we should not mention Jesus, but rather, each of us, in seeking the root message, might ask, is this the message or the symbolic "proof" i.e.. Jesus as the perfect arbiter of rightness.
It is hard to get the concept across in less than a book, easier to come to if we talk face to face... which is hard when thee is in New Zealand... but since thee finds thyself there, if thee runs across my dear friend Alyn Wear of the Lawyer Committee For Nuclear Disarmament... tell him hello from Larry in New York. :)


flurble said...

Ah! but as my chemistry teacher said, "person" is also sexist, it should be "peroffspring".

And "woman", he claimed, should therefore be "woperoffspring" :-)

Anna Dunford said...

Had that been your English teacher I'd've been worried, but as it was your Chemistry teacher... (hmm, just remembered the Chemistry teachers I consider to be friends, think I'll leave that thought where it is!)

Welcome Lorcan! It's always good to know who actually reads this =)

Les Dunford said...

Man in Old English simply meant human being and was gender neutral. Wer and wïf, Wæp(man) and wïfman were the distinctive words. [Courtesy of a certain etymological dictionary (Anna's!)resting, occasionally, on our shelves here in UK.]

Might explain the inherited use of man in the sense of mankind or chairman etc.


Paul L said...

It warms the cockles of a satirist's heart to read that a reader got achey sides from reading his stuff. And that she got the joke.

Thanks for noticing.

Liz Opp said...

A woman I know just the other day made a comment like, "It's for the good of all womankind... since 'woman' means 'everybody,' right?!"

Sometimes in order to make a point, we have to go way off to the other extreme.

As for the balancing act of retaining words like "overseer" that may be harmful to another group, it's tricky. Once I have genuine relationships with members of the group that finds certain language offensive or wounding, I find it harder to continue to use that language...

At the same time, if I can stay connected to members of that group (usually an oppressed minority) and be part of the healing that happens, I can then be part of the dialogue that might lead to reincorporating language that was dismissed earlier.

Or, like the use of "mankind" being replaced with "humanity," the pruning of hurtful words might lead to new growth within our vernacular, adding words that speak more directly to the Light we have been given.

No easy answers, as usual...

Liz, The Good Raised Up

Anna Dunford said...

Dad made an interesting point on the phone last night but presumably wasn't planning on posting it so I will!

I'm not sure enough of when what English usage changed, especially without the book sitting at Mum & Dad's, and I don't know enough about the bible to know from recent translations direct from the original texts into English (as opposed to going via about 2 or 3 translations in between, not to mention a whole heap of censorship) what words were originally used in the Aramaic or whatever....

...But none the less it is an interesting point to ponder on - if in the bible the references to 'man' meant 'humankind' (as was meant by the original English meaning of the word) it paints a whole different picture and one that would make many of the texts far more appealing to many liberal Friends who currently have issue with it! One also that the mainstream churches would appear to have conveniently overlooked as language usage changed...

If anyone has the knowledge to comment on this I'd be fascinated to hear more.