9/14 A negative language by default?

Rough - Teignmouth 2014b

So far, so easy. Now it gets more difficult.

In my previous posts, I have been talking about language – the way we string words together. Now I want to point out that I am also talking about attitudes – patterns of behaviour shaped by the language we use towards each other. I am using the concept of a continuum as the outline for a particular language (and hence the pattern) that I want to highlight.

So . . . if the positive end of the continuum runs upwards from a central point of the neutral meeting, leading to rapport, then understanding, then respect, then trust, (see the previous post), then the negative end of the continuum could be said to descend from that same neutral meeting to being pinch-lipped, suspicious, fearful, aggrieved, mean-spirited and ultimately vindictive.

It is extremely simplistic (not to say arrogant) to try and sum up human behaviour in a straight line. I apologise. I am trying to paint a picture and I have to use words to do it. If the individual words resonate with you then mark them but try and keep the whole picture in mind.

Thus the negative side of the continuum looks like this:

Losing Trust

I suggest that it is very easy to slide from being suspicious to being fearful and aggrieved and, if there is no resolution, then to becoming mean-spirited and ultimately vindictive. Look around you, read the newspapers, watch the news on TV. It is the vindictive end of the continuum that causes the headlines.

However, I wonder if this is so because we expect the other end, the respectful end, to be the norm and the vindictive end to be an unfortunate but rather exciting aberration – containing attitudes that we can explore and exploit because we are assured that all is well really.

The attitudes in the continuum are natural human ones but some are more productive than others in building the civilised, trustworthy, caring society I mentioned in an earlier post. My concern, and the only reason I am pursuing this, is that our breaking down of society into sections, each with its own language, each promoted with increasing success, has resulted in our beginning to neglect to maintain “understanding, respect and trust” across society as a whole and we are in danger of becoming a pinch-lipped, mean-spirited, vindictive society by default.

In the next post, I will put this into context and give a specific example of why I think this is happening.


Although it can be read as a single post, the above is part of a series that illustrates one of the author’s current interests, taken from a locker full of interests, at a major waypoint in his life. The series sets out as a comment on retirement before focusing around language. He wonders whether he himself has the language to cope as he steps out into the wider world popularly known as ‘retirement’ – an irreversible step into a world that he has previously only glimpsed out of the corner of his eye, a world in which he thinks the word ‘retirement’ to be a misnomer. He has used the medium of the blog to paint the picture. The irony is that, whereas writing about it does allow him to reflect, sitting alone at a computer actually distances him from the face-to-face interaction he is describing.

Gale - Millook 2007