Last week I heard EPA administrator Gina McCarthy lament on the “green-world” using too many esoteric terms. And perhaps terminology is precisely what is driving such a divide between partisan values on environmentalism. Fundamentally, I agree with her, but the simple statement made my thoughts start churning…
To be honest, I get a woozy feeling in my stomach every time I hear the word vegan. My fiance and I went on a health-kick not too long ago after being inspired by healthy eating documentary- Forks Over Knifes. And I have to admit… I went on a little stint of not eating meat. (The documentary was quite convincing). My finance would tell people we ate as vegans for a while.. I would cringe and say “No, we went on a ‘plant-based’ diet”.
It’s the same thing. I just feel better saying it. To be completely honest, I just don’t want myself to be associated with what our culture has labeled as a “vegan”. There. That’s honest, full disclosure.
In the same light, marriage equality seems to reach more people than simply saying what it’s actually implying— same sex marriage. Marriage equality transcends the cultural label of gay marriage. Some people fundamentally disagree that “same sex” marriage should be allowed—but very few people can argue against marriage equality.
So by manipulating words around, you can be more effective by curbing past cultural context.
Anyone remember global warming? That term that people used to throw around— the “Global Warming” that Al Gore made famous in his 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth“. Global warming never really caught on in the conservative world. Liberals started erasing their usage of the term wherever they could and replacing it with climate change and now its much more agreeable that there is a problem the world needs to address. The phrase “climate change” has been around for a while but now its value is immense— a much more bipartisan term than “global warming”. Climate change contains some technical differences but the general connotation that humans are negatively contributing to earth’s ecosystem is the same. The change on wordplay just happened to transcend partisan lines much more effectively than global warming.
Conservatives will address environmental problems with words like “stewardship”, “conservation” and protecting “liberties”. Liberals will address the same problem with words like “sustainability”, “peace” and “equality”.
It’s like a rap song might tell the same old love story as a down home country song. It’s the same story, told in a different way.
Think of the cultural differences between the people that will resonate with each particular message.
Some people may agree with your message, but won’t even begin to listen because of your method of delivery.
Language is a form of art. The medium may be different. The words may be eloquent or they may be abrupt. They may resonate or they may not. I think that many people have the same message. It’s those people that can craft their words into acute and authentic meanings that touch the most. Peel back the layers of your message and find something that transcends cultural boundaries. It’s all about using the right words in the right places. Find that effective wordplay.
Pay attention to the message you are trying to spread. Maybe a simple change of words, without sacrificing a change in meaning, is what will help to more effectively spread that message.