Three dangerous words

Words have the power to shape the world. The instant a word is spoken, it begins to manifest the thought that gave it birth. That is why we are admonished to “speak our world into existence” by so many sages. The mind creates our world, our tongue shapes it into words and the Universe responds with its manifestation.

This is true whether those thoughts are positive or negative, since the process does not discriminate. Whether productive or not, the Universe manifests the world we create in thought and shape into words. This is a law of the Universe, set in place by whatever we believe God is.

It is important, then, that we should be careful with the words we use, especially when we are consciously seeking to build the world we would share with the future. Some words build prisons, others build gardens.

We have identified three words in common use that we believe have destructive effects on our world, words used as tools for manipulation rather than emancipation. Those three words are “poor”, “free” and “rights”.

For those having followed my writings, my concern for the society’s role in the development of self-image would come as no surprise. All human behavior is driven by self-image (you can’t do what you don’t think you are). It is a primary job of the socializing process to feed the self-image of its members with the diet that builds a strong and positive self-image. That diet begins with a sense of personal history, a spiritual connection and a sense of community. At the end of the day, that is how identity is established.

It is therefore distressing to have whole communities declare that their self-image is rooted in the word “poor”. As suggested above, this means that the behavior associated with being “poor” is expected to be the accepted behavior within those communities. Other words, complete with their behavior assignments, tend to come with this “poor” identity, words like “ghetto”, “inner city” and “hood”. This is bad enough when it is generated by odd members of the community, but when it becomes the basis for Government programs the word “poor” is truly destructive. It makes the assumption, for example, that dignity is based upon the conditions of the world around us, and that quality of life is based upon possessions. As Bob Proctor, a late American pastor said, “Poor is not what you are. It is how you live.” We must reconsider the use of this word in connection with the planning of our social and economic programs.

The second destructive word is “free”. My marketing friends tell me it is the most important weapon in their arsenal of customer manipulation. With it, they can literally get anyone to do anything. They can get a very private person to expose their personal details online with the promise of a free I-phone or a cosmetic sample, or to declare allegiance to something they hate in order to win a trip to Disneyworld. It is therefore suspect when public programs get public support by promising “free” access to tax-payer services, or offers to deliver something personal “for free” in exchange.

“There is no such thing as a free cup of coffee.” Somebody pays for it!

The use of the word “free” in connection with taxpayer services does not mean there is no cost, just that other citizens are making the payment, and while many citizens may happily pay for their brother’s welfare, it is disrespectful to pretend that there is no expense involved. In fact, it is often the case that the ones making the payment are the ones being publicly disrespected by those claiming the “free” services.

Finally there is the word “rights”. There are no “rights” in a vacuum. There is no “right” to own property, drive a car, have a job or get an education. These are the privileges of citizenship (and legitimate visitation).They are the result of living up to the responsibilities of citizenship, including contributing to the cost of providing those things, creating and supporting the legal framework within which to enjoy those privileges. Suggesting that the fact of birth gives us “rights” is both dishonest and counter-productive, as it separates the benefits of citizenship from the responsibilities of citizenship.

An example of the ways in which we have become accustomed to the use of these three destructive words is in our conversations about the development of the City of Nassau. That is, the real City of Nassau, that area we call Over-the-Hill where the people of the city live. Every time we begin a discussion about Over-The-Hill revitalization, both the public announcements and the private conversations makes liberal use of these three dangerous words. The most recent initiative was during the former administration, when the Over-the-Hill areas were promised they would be be “free” of taxes and would have the “right” to cheap housing. This “free” stuff may well be considered “rights” for “poor” people, but the only way they will be paid for is either by higher contributions to the public purse (taxes) by those outside those areas or by borrowing yet more money to increase an already huge National Debt. If “poor” people enjoy a life “free” of taxes and have the “right” to ownership of a housing, would they respect the fact that those things are only available if “rich” people (the ones they despise and even protest against) actually did pay their taxes?

The creation of a democratic state pre-supposes that everybody is equal under the Constitution. That means we all have the same privileges and responsibilities, and when we borrow money to provide for one citizen, we are all responsible for paying for it. For the past half century we have pretended that those three words are somehow a measure of our National condition. It is time we accept the responsibility for this state we call the Bahamas. In human affairs, “free” is a tool for manipulation. “Poor” is a state of consciousness. “Rights” are granted in return for living up to responsibilities.

Think about it.

• Pat Rahming is an architect, writer and songwriter who is passionate about the importance of the built environment and its importance to the social development of The Bahamas. He can be reached at prahming@gmail.com or via his blog “From the Black Book” at prahming.wordpress.com. He welcomes other points of view.

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