July 2017 . . . .

“Vocabulary Lesson, Day 1”

Interesting word problem — is healthcare a right or a privilege?

I suppose that this depends on what you think rights are, have been, or should be. All good questions. I think that “privilege” and “right” might be difficult words to use in a critical discussion. They are fraught with political baggage — seemingly simple words which in the past were used to communicate clear messages now wrapped inexorably in agenda and opinion.

Or were they? Were these and other words like them ever clean, crisp concepts with universally agreed-on definitions? Did Samuel and John Adams — second cousins and contemporary firebrands of liberty — ever disagree on the finer points of jumping out of Britain’s nest? I think that they did.

And how much does where you’ve been determine where you’re going in such discussions? (My guess on this one — a lot.)

So while I had imagined a short essay explaining (mansplaining? Ugh!) what I think about critical discussion, using the healthcare debate as my focal point: how we are better served understanding that healthcare is a requirement and we need a healthcare safety net and why planning for an unknown future is elementary school logic and how healthcare providers are professionals and need to be financially rewarded for their skills and sharing that cost is thus and such and so on, as my wise daughter says, I’ve wandered off into the analogy weeds.

Because it’s all just words and we’re all tired of them.

Wait, what? Tired of words? When did this happen?

I heard recently (somewhere, out there in the weeds) that most of the communicating done on Facebook will be some form of video. And Facebook is the wave of the future. Right? No?

Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Maybe Twitter is the wave of the future. The reduction of discussion to its core 144 characters. Reduction of critical analysis to the very kernel. Shrinking of thinking.

My guess, however, is some iteration of Snapchat. The picture that tells a thousand words. Only these pictures are the happy-snaps pointed randomly out into the fleeting reality of giggly preteens. Not to disparage our youth, or anyone’s youth, but, whoa. I mean, like, you know? Or is the winner Instagram — which allows those same vapid photos to exist, but for a shorter timeframe. Disposable value. A thousand wor . . . .

Anyhow, it is moot (which doesn’t mean a point not worth arguing, but actually the opposite of that. Holy crap, you guys!) because the inventions and apps keep coming faster and more furiously at us, in order to take from us that part of us which is valuable — our time — by selling us a bill of goods. Without actually saying it, offering a promise that they can make us more productive. More useful. More youthful. More . . . something.

But, time being of an essence, let’s return to healthcare, if only because I think the conflict there is about words, and definitions of words and interpretations of definitions and what they mean to us because of what each one of us has experienced. In other words (yes, well, sorry), I suspect that most of the difficulty we have with comprehending community is in our language — the words we choose and how we use them. Privilege versus right, socialism versus spreading costs, health tax versus proportional premiums. It is the language, might I say even those words specifically, and others, that cause confrontational behaviors, make many folks heels-dug-in intransigent about their point of view regarding healthcare. They feel that their opinion is not respected. And once we are in the mood for digging in our heels — rejecting any future discussion out of hand because we feel we are being condescended to — we tend to lose sight of the actual goal. Which, looking back up the page, was, ahem, to not be so sick anymore.

And herein lies my conclusion. As we take the act of communicating and radically, capriciously alter it — replacing essays with videos, taking words and using them differently than they were defined, intentionally taking them in a new direction for which they were not designed, we create a deeper divide between ourselves. Or wider, I’m not sure which. We don’t make sense to each other. We become, to paraphrase the old chestnut, a people divided by a common language. And when we let this happen and at first laugh it off as silly, as part of our culture of disposable humor, we do ourselves damage. We inadvertently commit to double-down on the problem. Except, ironically, that is not what double-down means.