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Banbury Cross

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Post details: Rustworthy Words

Rustworthy Words

Words are kind of like metals. They are susceptible to corrosion. Not the one caused by partying oxygen molecules, but the one caused by the chronic lack of substance. Every time a word is bruised by material emptiness, a bit of its essence goes to word heaven. Slowly but surely, they lose their color and over time even their structural integrity like untreated steel beams exposed to elements. If we let this process get out of hand, we may wake up one day and realize that our bridge to meaning has collapsed.

An example of a word that falls victim to mindless repetition a little bit too often is the word "community" - in particular when used in a self-reflecting mode. Sure, great communities do exist, but they have other things to do than paint themselves as such. They rebuild their infrastructure, plant trees, sing in a choir or play theater, organize soccer leagues, help their neighbors in need or just enjoy the sunshine. Self-praise has never really sounded very genuine and if you have to state your qualities explicitly, the chances are that something to be desired is left behind.

Standing next in the line of mouth fillers is the word "respect" - which in its purest form is very simple: it is an acknowledgment of people's right to pursue happiness as they see fit. Nothing more and nothing less. If you can, you may help them in this endeavor and if you can't, you should stand out of the way. That's what respect is. Sadly, more often than not, this word becomes a caricature of itself, an expensive perfume masking the lack of kindness and modesty. Respect is becoming a feather with which we stroke our swollen sense of importance, a sweet incense in a liturgical act of self-worship. People who toss the word respect around a lot are also the ones who will throw obstacles in your path, the ones who don't give a rat's tiny behind about your pursuit of happiness, and who will even stab you in the back with a salad fork when you are reaching for a dessert. But they surely will enunciate "I am so sorry!" afterwards.

In an ideal world, respect would be an unnecessary construct. People would be to mankind what individual cells are to human body. They would strive towards the collective good just as tissue cells in your body try to make it function as a whole, without pandering to their own petty needs. They get the job done in a completely selfless manner. And if they bump into each other along the way they just settle it as they go. Tickling one's ego can complicate things. Imagine how clogged our arteries would be if one respected bloodcell would say to another: "Excuse me, but I am not carrying this oxygen to the heart until you offer an apology for cutting me off".

But standalone words have company on the corrosion's hit list - phrases can be full of hot air too. If you browse through Internet personals long enough, sooner or later you are bound to traipse into the ground zero of spiritual vacuity, an area marked by the yellow police tape with the signature line of cookie cutter profiles on it in large black block letters: "I LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST". Alright, alright. Great. More power to you if you do. I can't argue with the pursuit of fullestness. What puzzles me a bit, though, is this: I know several people who live life to the fullest, and they never say so, they just do so.

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