You might be thinking that’s TMI (Too Much Information, for those who still write in complete sentences), but my point here is not to tell you about my dietary proclivities. It’s to make a point about language.
When we talk about being “lactose-intolerant,” we mean “my body can’t handle foods that contain lactose.” But since the word “intolerance” also refers to a lack of respect, that statement technically could be interpreted as, well, a hatred of lactose.
Sure, 99.999 (or hopefully 100%) of human beings understand the context of this particular example. But what about another example? What if you said “legitimate rape,” like Senatorial-candidate Todd Akin from Missouri?
Nope. I’m not defending Todd Akin. I’m really not. Not even a little bit. I think he’s really pretty awful. I simply cannot tolerate him, as it were. In this case, though, as misguided as he was, I’m pretty sure he meant “legitimate” as “actual” and not as “allowable.” As in “when it’s rape, not consensual,” not “rape is allowable because it won’t result in pregnancy” (obviously wrong on many levels). IMHO (In My Humble Opinion, sentence users) he’s wrong in every aspect of that comment — medically, emotionally and morally. But let’s not get hung up on him using a word in a wrong context. That’s clearly not the biggest part of that problem.
For our own influence situations, this means that we should think carefully about every word we say and every sentence we write, particularly in terms of how it might look to someone who would interpret our words in a different way. It also means looking at other people’s messages in that same light. When they say something that irritates you, is it possible they don’t really mean what you think they mean? I’ll admit, this is definitely one of those “physician heal thyself” kind of things. I am notorious for firing off cranky e-mails in response to a comment I wildly misinterpreted. And then, of course, I usually go back with my tail between my legs. Sometimes we all accidentally say things that we don’t mean.
So learn from my mistakes as well as Todd Akin’s. Oh, and BTW (“By The Way” for the full sentence users), I’m not really lactose intolerant, so feel free to send cheese and chocolate.
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