Words are used as though they are the most simple thing ever. We assume that the things that we say mean the same things for everybody. But words are far more complex than that. Two people can grow up in the same city, go to the same school, take the same courses in University, and belong to the same religion but they will interpret the same words differently. This week has been filled with examples of this for me. Today I was discussing “faith” with a group of people in an interfaith environment. We are all apart of the same group, we were discussing the same book, but we didn’t all agree on what “faith” means or its value as a word. As an atheist, “faith” has a vastly different meaning for me then it did for those that I was with. This has lead me to question what the phrase “I have faith” actually means to the person who says it. What are they trying to convey? What message do they want to send me? How does that differ from the message that I receive?
Earlier this week I was dealing with even more problematic words. On Tuesday I was discussing “sex” and “gender”. What do we mean when we say “I am a woman” as opposed to “I am female,” or “I am male” as opposed to “I am a man”? What message are we trying to convey? How do those phrases have different meanings. For me, they are vastly different. When I am discussing my sex, I simply mean the label that I was given by the doctor when I was born. There is no deeper meaning and it holds no significance. When I am discussing my gender I am discussing how I feel about myself. How I label myself, and how I want others to label me. But many people use sex and gender interchangeably.
So what problems are caused as a result of different people interpreting the same word differently? What does this say about how we communicate? What should we do to eliminate miscommunication? All these questions keep rushing through my mind and I am curious to know how others feel about these issues.