George Carlin had a great moment where he talked about “shell shock” in World War 1. He was upset with America and their use of euphemistic language. He found that surrounding the issue of mental illness in soldiers in euphemism was a great deal of bullshit. Shell shock was to the point.
It was direct and it told you basically everything you needed to know about the issue at the time. Your nervous system was stretched to it’s limits and it was at a point where it had or was about to snap.
Then in WW2 it became “battle-fatigue.” It was more syllables, much less direct, and didn’t sound like such a terrible condition to be suffering from. Perhaps you needed more naps.
Heading into and out of the Vietnam War the term became “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Not only did he find this incredibly long winded.. But it was a past tense sounding description of a present tense problem. While this may be more politically correct and applies to more people than soldiers, it still takes the urgency out of the issue. My friends have mild forms of PTSD from their childhoods.
There is a poetic and despicable irony in the way that our brains will associate these two groups of people and color our experiences of their suffering, in some cases trivializing or negating it.
The reason this even came up was because I was watching a brilliant Ted talk about “Leadership Training” over “Sensitivity Training.”
The speaker talked about a linguist who illustrated how the human mentality is naturally inclined towards victim blaming with 4 sentences.
1. John beat Mary.
2. Mary was beaten by John.
3. Mary was beaten.
4. Mary is a “battered woman.”
I like the first sentence. It’s direct, clear, and the perpetrator of the action Is the first thing you witnessed, followed by his actions, followed by his victim.
If you follow the order of nouns in the sentences and ask why this happened you may notice something interesting. In the first sentence. The question posed would look like this:
“Why did John beat Mary?”
In any of the subsequent cases, we start asking about the victim. Victims are not the ones who take the action that they are a victim of… So why do we shift the blame on to them. And why do we describe them in ways that divorce them from the actor’s will?