Ever notice how our society and culture is slowly devaluing certain words, making them less common, making them less important, even though they’re important words?

Here are some examples:

– Virtue
– Spirit
– Valor
– Moral

Virtue’s turned into a kind of sissy word. Spirit’s avoided by an awful lot of people except in the contexts of church, school sports, and cloth armor for healers in World of Warcraft. Valor is so out of date that a decent number of people don’t even know what it means (beyond Emblems of Valor for iLevel 213 gear in Warcraft). Moral is either used as a societal bludgeon by some nutcases or an anathema of personal freedom by other nutcases.

Ever wonder why words like these get devalued or pushed to the fringes? My current thinking on it deals with mirrors. How we communicate and the words we choose are mirrors of what’s going on inside. When we recoil from using some words on a societal level, on a cultural level, it might be because we don’t particularly like looking in that mirror and seeing that those words don’t apply to us much any more. Some words we desperately want to forget, like certain racial slurs. Other words, which are nominally “good” words but don’t match the reality of our society and ourselves, we just stop using instead.

For example, we don’t use virtue much in daily language because frankly and bluntly, we’re not an especially virtuous society, and thus the absence of that value is reflected in the absence of the word from the language. If you consider the classical four virtues (cardinal virtues) that stretch back to Plato:

– Prudence – able to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time
– Justice – proper moderation between the self-interest and the rights and needs of others
– Restraint or Temperance – practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation
– Courage or Fortitude – forbearance, endurance, and ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation

Then we’re not doing an especially good job of any of them, and thus the word that encompasses them falls away. One stroll around your local shopping mall and you’ll easily pick out the values that are starkly absent in our society.

Am I advocating for anything in particular? Not necessarily, though certainly more virtue would be nice. No, what I want you to take away and think about is this short list of questions:

What words have you let lapse out of your vocabulary, and what impact does that have on you?
How do you perceive yourself if those words no longer fit comfortable in your day to day language?
What words do you use most frequently instead, and do they match the ideal of who you want to be?


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