Say What?


I’m sitting at my craft table working on something while my kids are playing nearby.  Focusing on my work, I don’t notice anything out of the ordinary, until I hear my seven-year-old say something that sounds like a swear word.  Pausing my work, I turn and ask her to repeat what she just said.  Not too worried, she casually repeats the word.  

Oh, no.  We’ve got a bonafide swear word, people.

I’ve tried a couple different strategies for eliminating swear words from my kids’ vocabulary.  There’s the protective approach where I just don’t allow them to hear swear words.  Those of you laughing right now know this is a futile effort, because people are people, not robots, and eventually a bad word slips out.  

I’ve also tried the “we don’t say those words in our family” approach.  Then follows the circular questioning, “Why?”  and no matter how much I explain, I usually end up back at “because we just don’t say those words in our family.”  Admittedly, we’ve been stuck at this approach for a while and I’ve started to wonder if it’s really sinking in.

As my children mature, I’ve started to notice signs of understanding that just wasn’t there a few years ago.  This can provide opportunities to help them truly develop into independent, well-rounded thinkers.

Sitting with my daughter who has just repeated a definite swear word, I decide to try a different approach.  Matching her casual tone, or at least trying to, I ask what she thinks the word means.  She gives a generic definition, obviously having drawn from context where she’s heard the word before.  It makes some sense, but she’s missing a few pieces.  I think for a moment and then explain what the word literally means, in the best succinct terms possible.  Following my explanation, and with a bit of bravery since this can go either way, I ask her if she wants to keep using the word or not.  She decides not to.  *victory dance*  The biggest win in my book is the fact that she came to that conclusion herself. 

This whole episode with my daughter has me thinking.  When I asked her what she thought the word meant, notice how she draws her understanding simply from context.  In politics we see this all the time.  We might not always know exactly what a word means, but similarly we guess at its meaning based on context.  It gets a little fuzzy because, depending on our own political leanings, one term might feel derogatory while in a different context it feels like a compliment.   When these terms get intertwined with identity, it’s gets harder still to really filter out true meaning.

A few posts back, I sought to gain a wider perspective on two basic political terms – liberal and conservative.  I got a good variety of answers, and from that I’d like to offer my Mom Talks Politics version.  As you read, remember, I’m trying to get at the heart of what these words mean, currently, and not necessarily offering a historical or dictionary version.  Here goes.

A “Conservative” thinker essentially seeks to preserve and protect the values our nation was built upon.  Rebelling against a monarchy, our founding fathers established a government that put power (and trust) in the hands of the people (first older adult white males, then women, then all American citizens, then all citizens 18 years and older). Certain checks and balances were put in place to prevent tyranny of the majority and an imbalance of power within government.  Rights of the governed should be protected, and the fundamental building blocks of our government system should be preserved. Conservatives, at the core, still hold these values.   

Our “Liberal” thinker essentially seeks to embrace change and new ideas in an effort to champion the rights of the underserved and at risk, whether people or systems (the ecosystem for example).  This way of thinking emerged as our nation grew and certain problems popped up that laws didn’t account for.  Often the term “liberal” is used negatively, so most liberals prefer the term “progressive” as a better reflection of their values of change and progress.

When it comes to law-making, these minds think differently.  

A conservative  “seeks to keep society and government from ‘running faster than it has strength’. [They are concerned with] making responsible choices and not simply changing for the sake of change,” especially at the expense of individual liberties.

The liberal (or progressive) believe in the concept of society, through government, “taking more responsibility for fixing inequalities” or holding certain sectors accountable. “Problems affect people (or systems) in real time, and the longer solutions are debated or resisted,” the bigger the problem gets.  

In my new approach with my daughter, I didn’t just want to give her a list of words to say or not to say, instead I tried to help her decide for herself by giving her a better understanding of the meaning behind the word.  As we try to dig deeper into politics I think we could really benefit from the same exercise.  What definitions have been formed by context alone?  I believe there are advantages to taking a step back and getting a fresh look at these worn out terms.

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