I find sounds and language fascinating. How is it that the word “vaak” in Afrikaans means sleepy, but uttering the very same sound in English can get you sent to the principal’s office? When babies are born, the word “blue” has no meaning. But as they grow up we teach them the meaning of the word.
How about that time when you wanted to name your baby “Marietjie”? And your partner’s response was firm: “I can never call my child Marietjie. I went to school with a Marietjie and I absolutely hated her”. The same word, but the meaning that two people attach to that word is completely different.
Words and sounds don’t have meaning per se, but they are given meaning. And if that meaning is repeated often enough, we come to accept it as fact. Blue is blue.
Some words or concepts are more complex than others. Think about words like happiness or racism. Or what is beauty? What is intelligence? There is most probably not only one answer. We are not born knowing the meaning. We are also not taught the answer like “blue” or “vaak”. The meaning we attach to these constructs are largely subjective and have been shaped by hundreds of conversations, advertisements, TV-shows, jokes told, eye rolls, news articles, You/Huisgenoot/Drum magazines, books and everyday interactions.
(If language also fascinates you, there is a TED talk worth watching: Lera Boroditsky - How language shapes the way we think.)
Words are not only infused with meaning, they can also be used to create meaning
Language is a mediator for constructing our realities. In simpler terms: the words we use can shape our realities. The words we choose to use will have consequences. To illustrate this, imagine how reading different newspapers about the same story would have shaped the way you looked at the world in 1990:
One newspaper headline reads “Freedom fighter finally released after 27 years”. Another headline reads “Terrorist released after only 27 years”. The two headlines not only represent two vastly different realities, but they also create two vastly different realities for the people who are reading the different newspapers.
We accept a reality as truth, not because it is inherently true. But rather because, if an idea is repeated often enough, we come to accept it as the truth.
Reconstruct the narrative
Words have the power to create meaning, but this means that words can also recreate and change meaning. When a new meaning is repeated often enough, the new, reconstructed meaning will become accepted as truth.
The mainstream meaning that has been attached to obesity and bariatric surgery is based on outdated ideas. These misconceptions have been repeated often enough that it has become accepted as fact - by people in general, but also by many healthcare providers. This is keeping many people living with obesity from getting the help they need. It is time to reconstruct the stories and beliefs that support the myths around obesity and bariatric surgery. Will it happen overnight? No. But if we repeat it often enough we can reconstruct reality.
Become part of our community and Reconstruct the narrative. Become a member today.