I like words. I usually pay attention to what other people are saying. Sometimes it would be easier if I didn’t. But easier doesn’t mean better of course.
I know three different languages. And I know bits from few more. I like to reflect on the nature of words.
I had a personal example of language misuse that haunted me for at least a year.
Once my ex-partner called me an evil person. It was said in clear mind and repeated a lot of times during different occurrences afterwards.
That shocked me profoundly. I did know what evil means. I started to question myself a lot. Don’t I know something about myself? Am I lying to myself? Do other people see something in me that I can’t see? It was a lot of soul-searching. I started to pay attention to all the references of good and evil in the literature.
I grew up with these concepts. They were everywhere: fairy tails, cartoons, myths, films. I shivered every time I remembered this accusation. It was the opposite of what I believed in and valued.
Wikipedia gives this definition of evil:
Evil, in a general sense, is the opposite or absence of good. It can be an extremely broad concept, though in everyday usage is often used more narrowly to denote profound wickedness.
For me, the simplest definition of evil is "premeditated act of doing something wrong."
And I was reading through definitions and reflecting time and time again. One day I confronted my ex-partner and explained what evil means according to other people. I asked if knowing this definition her accusation still holds true. She switched it to another term. Which ironically was also incorrect, but that is for another story.
I was a bit relieved after this. But I still didn’t understand how did that happen in the first place. Why was I called that initially? What was the thing person really wanted to say?
In the last year, I believe I found answers to both of these questions.
The problem was that all that communication happened in the Ukrainian language.
In Ukrainian, the noun "evil" is "зло". And the adjective "evil" is "злий". So I was called злий meaning evil person. However, the problem that angry in Ukrainian is also злий. Ukrainian language simply doesn’t have a separate word for angry. So feeling angry in Ukrainian is being evil. Those are two different things!
Ukrainian language doesn’t have a separate word for one of the emotions or feelings (however we define it nowadays).
What is even more disturbing that "злий" word (meaning angry) has a very negative spin to it in my native language. When you have something that has negative connotation you want to get rid of it and dissociate yourself from it. Which is the wrong way to view anger altogether. It has its own function and is quite important. And if you reflect on your anger you would understand a lot about yourself.
Anyway, it was an Aha moment when I realized that all that happened just because Ukrainian language lacked one word in it.
Two lessons that I learned from this situation.
Listen to people, but make sure that you and they understand some basic words in the same way. A lot of miscommunication happens because people understand things differently. Read common definitions. That is precisely why we have vocabularies - to establish common meanings.
Cross check words from different languages. Cross check definitions. Some words are extremely outdated. We can create new words if needed too. Without past baggage. An environment in which we operate matters. Culture and language in which we are surrounded set defaults and context.