It was a hymn we sung in church, a few weeks ago now, which reminded me I wanted to write a post on this subject … although it is a theme I have considered writing about previously, but never quite got round to it.
I can’t even exactly remember which hymn it was now, but it was one of those “onward Christian soldiers”, “fight the good fight” type ones which always make me feel distinctly uncomfortable.
I know others will tell me these are not songs which condone violence, that they are simply using familiar, evocative imagery to explore spiritual themes which defy easy description.
That though, is precisely the problem.
As my involvement with the peace movement has become increasingly active, and as I have engaged with and reflected on what it means to be truly non-violent, I have become increasingly aware how unhelpful the language and imagery we use, often entirely subconsciously, can be.
I have long been uncomfortable with ‘warfare’ hymns and the constant rhetoric of the ‘war on this that and the other’ from government ministries and media outlets but the first time I remember being stopped in my tracks by something I said myself was when I described the Quakers as “punching above their weight”… and realised how entirely inapt the image was.
It was a wake up call to try and think more carefully about my choice of words and images, and to become aware of how often we fallback on images of violent conflict to explain or evoke a whole range of situations and experiences. We “fight” or “combat” the things we are against, take “a shot in the dark” when we just don’t know or “give it a shot” when we think maybe we do.
Perhaps it is all entirely innocent and I shouldn’t be concerned about the words we use without a second thought: but I don’t think so. I believe in the power of language and I worry that by our constant exposure to the language of violence we reduce our sensitivity to what these things actually are and actually mean. Desensitised to the reality behind the images, our everyday language becomes one of many factors helping to perpetuate a culture of violence.
The language we use certainly helps shape the way we think; so I can’t help wondering what would happen if we shifted our rhetoric to more peaceful images.
I am not pretending I have been entirely consistent in changing my language use since I first started to reflect on this idea After all, my starting premise was that often these language choices are so ingrained that we use them entirely sub-consciously. But I guess I have tried to be a little more conscious, at least some of the time, of the words I choose and the images I describe.
It is one of the tiny steps I am trying to take towards the road of peace I want to walk.