Post # 322    ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON AND “US”

It is universally understood that the existence and successful functioning of human society, is fundamentally dependent upon the availability and use of a common language, as part of a system of interactive communication. Interdependence, problem solving, mutual sharing of empirical experience, as well as mundane social communication, are the basic structural supports, found in the underpinnings of any societal life.

Thus, because the element of interactive societal communication is basic to the establishment and perpetuation of society, we have, from time to time, deemed it useful and responsible to offer our comments regarding selected words, drawn from the American lexicon, which were felt by us to be deserving of comment.

By way of illustration, we have written that certain, apparently simple words, such as “repetition,” “nice” and “like” were unjustly given short shrift and, for the reasons proposed, ought to be accorded significantly more intrinsic value and respect. We have, as well, denigrated words such as, “tolerance,” as an expression of bigoted, faux self-praise, (who is it, that is qualified to tolerate, and to tolerate what?) and the hateful term, “race,” the latter, an entirely unscientific conceit, employed exclusively, for despicable purposes.

Our recent ruminations have centered around the tiny, seemingly inconspicuous, two letter word, “us.” The selected word is functionally and contextually, distinguishable from the similar word, we”, which latter term is frequently employed, merely to connote a first- person plural subject, viz., an objective, numerical observation; this characterization is, contrary to the case of the emotion-packed word, “us.”

It is with our sincerest of apologies to Robert Louis Stevenson, whose classic novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we have chosen as a syntactical metaphor for our subject word “us,” based upon our word’s potential for polarity. On the positive (Dr. Jekyll) side, the subject word, “us” summons up warm feelings of acceptance, security, inclusiveness, sympathy, belonging, assurance, identity, safety, concord, mutuality, commonality, and other terms of positive societal attribution. On the negative (Mr. Hyde) side, the same word, autonymically, refers to insularity, bigotry, exclusiveness, asserted superiority, class or economic distinction, religious discrimination, political or social tribalism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant trope, selfishness and other like anti-social or reprehensible reference.

We have often written of a singularly, but common, instance, in which a Dr. Jekyll, (good) intention, nevertheless unwittingly but inevitably, results in disastrous (Hyde) outcomes. This well- intentioned practice amounts to the parental inculcation of their young children in the ethnos and belief system of their birth, [but, significantly], to the exclusion of a respectful and enlightened picture of other, divergent belief systems. While this practice offers the child the desired and intended sense of identity and belonging (Dr. Jekyll), it often delivers a harmful (Dr. Hyde) message, of a reasonable “we” (“us”) and a bizarre and irrational “they” (them), ultimately leading to a distorted emphasis of perceived contrasting differences, and subsequently, the development of hostility toward the “other.” This historically repetitious travesty can be avoided, in the practice of good sense and enlightenment, by a program of teaching, not solely limited to who we are, ethnically, [“us,”] but also inclusive of a fulsome and positive explanation in the Dr. Jekyll mode, which is inclusive of others.

The personal use and intended meaning, of the somewhat ubiquitous word, “us,” in any context, will depend upon whether the preferred self-image, is one comparable to a Dr. Jekyll, or to a Mr. Hyde.

-p.

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plinyblogcom

Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Literature Student and enthusiast.

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