I fancy myself a writer, so I think about words a lot. Not just the meaning, but the effect of words. A dictionary will tell you what a word literally means, but a perusal of the world around us will reveal the true power of words. I’m convinced that words have done greater damage to humanity than all the weapons ever wielded. It’s a wonder we are not more careful with them.
I was inspired to think about this upon hearing the phrase, “human resources”. In spite of the ubiquitous presence of the word, this has got to be one of the most dehumanizing expressions known to western society. Let’s not even consider the general uselessness (at best) of the departments bearing that name. It tells me that, as a worker, I am a resource, no more or less than the paper shredder, coffee maker, or stapler that people use until they wear out, at which point they are unceremoniously replaced.
I haven’t figured out whether the term has promoted the current dehumanized workplace or if the miserable state of the workplace gave rise to it. Does it matter? By calling people “resources”, it seems to me that we are more likely to treat them as such. In fact, the situation has gotten worse because many companies now refer to these departments as “Human Capital Management”, which strangely but uncomfortably sounds a lot like “human cattle management”.
So why not come up with an alternative? What was wrong with the old tag “personnel”? I saw one idea I liked: “Internal Relations”.
But my point isn’t about HR per se, it’s about the power of words. Referring to people as resources makes one want to treat them as resources. That’s wrong. People are people – unique, valuable, precious, irreplaceable people.
This can happen in any relationship. A husband who refers to his wife (even in jest) as his “old lady” or even “the boss”, not only reveals his heart’s true attitude toward his mate, but he creates an image of her that she will potentially conform to.
It’s far worse with children. How different an adult will be depending on whether she hears herself referred to as sweet, lovely, or smart, compared to brat, ugly, or dummy.
It brings to mind the story of Gideon from the Hebrew scriptures. We are introduced to him cowering in a wine press, hiding from his enemies. An angel appears, announcing to him, “The Lord is with you mighty man of valor!” Gideon didn’t feel much like a man, never mind a mighty one… of valor yet. He responds by telling the angel that he is the least member of a poor family in a minor tribe. (Serious self-esteem issues there.)
Gideon’s future turned out pretty bright. Not only did he defeat the enemy that had virtually enslaved his people, he now has Bibles in almost every cheesy motel room in the world! Not bad for the least of the least.
How much of that is attributable to the way that the angel (and by inference, God) saw and described Gideon? Hard to tell, but I’m guessing the story would have turned out differently if the angel had come saying, “Hey, loser! What the heck are you doing in that wine press? Your future is about as bright as that ugly mole on your back.”
I think I’ll write more about this later. Come back soon.