A great freedom
History began with the creation of the written record. This is not to say that nothing existed prior. The invention of written language provided a record of conversations, events or thoughts. Writing established the flow of ideas from one generation to the next, undisturbed by verbal manipulation.
Some 8,000 years later there proves no greater mechanism than the power of language to communicate now indefinitely on the many social platforms. But have we lost in this hyper information age the integrity of the writer and the eloquence of speech for the pursuit of rhetoric that vies for media attention?
Bahamians are fortunate to have our freedom of speech protected by the Constitution. It affords us the opportunity to express opinions without fear of reproach.
Numerous online Bahamian forums openly welcome comments which require no more than access to the Internet. This open access to media is a great victory for all Bahamians. It excludes no one. Yet, the ease at which we can communicate has perhaps left us indifferent to the repercussions of our words.
Let us digress for a paragraph or two to examine the almost comical yet frightening nature of political punch lines in the U.S.
There is no one more synonymous with poor word choice and hyper media attention than Sarah Palin. Just in mentioning her we fear that we add to the media rot that continues to publicize her. But nonetheless there serves no better example for the disintegration of our language and the harm of its misuse.
Not long ago she accused the left and media of ‘blood libel’ for trying to tie her to the actions of the Tucson gunman. For the record, ‘blood libel’ refers to the false accusation that Jews murdered children to use their blood for Passover matzos.
Naïve or not to its meaning, she chose a phrase that she knew would incite outrage during a pre-recorded video interview that would allow her to escape any immediate retribution. In a single phrase, Palin offended a religion, upset the families of the Tucson victims, and most likely undermined the efforts of the Republicans to maintain supporters in the center right.
Our language has been reduced to polarizing snippets vying for media attention. We have lost amongst the Twitter ‘tweets’, the Facebook ‘posts’, the blogs, and other forums, our accountability. Yet there is hope that we have not succumbed to eternal petty one-line banter.
Perhaps more than any other public figure today, President Obama articulates his agenda with powerful eloquent speech.
The Bahamas will soon be entering an election period, where partisanship will undoubtedly be expressed at every opportunity. And there is no time more dangerous for language to undermine the course of a country than during an election.
Undoubtedly, political rhetoric will be perpetuated via social platforms as truths forgone.
So as politicians prepare for the upcoming campaign, remember the influence of your words, the social platforms you choose, and most of all, remember why you are running for office in the first place–to serve the people of your country.
It will then be our responsibility as the news media to provide unequivocal objective analysis of purported truths to hold all candidates accountable for their words.
Yet, it is not just the politicians or media outlets that must take heed of the power of language; it is the responsibility of Bahamian voters to get to know your candidate before you cast a vote.
Voting is a great freedom and can change the course of a country.