Reading the newspaper is such a marvel. Every day I find delightful little tidbits that entertain and totally amaze me. That is not always a good thing.
I like the ever-changing stream of euphemisms — you know, the re-labeling to make things we don’t like seem less bad. It started centuries ago, I suppose, but in my former profession I watched the transition from “moron,” “imbecile” and “idiot” to “mentally retarded” to “developmentally disabled,” then to “developmentally challenged.”
We’ve also stopped using “failing” grades for students. Ds and Fs hurt too much, and our fragile little children couldn’t possibly cope with bad feelings. Of course they can’t if they never have to confront them and learn how to deal with them. So now we have “below average” or “below expectations” or “needs work” or “challenged.”
Everyone who participates in sports gets a medal, so those who don’t come in first, second or third don’t have to feel bad. As a culture, we seem to have developed a phobia for negative feelings, which we believe can be avoided just by re-labeling either the feelings or the events. But today’s euphemism is tomorrow’s curse, slur or pejorative comment.
There is also the magical relabeling of “problem,” now called an “issue.” Treatment for an addiction is now called “rehab.” In my working days, rehabilitation was a good thing — it helped a person with a broken leg or hip replacement learn how to walk smoothly again. Now it seems to be what spoiled celebrities do to recover their reputations.
Another area of magical thinking is our social-political demon — taxes. We mustn’t raise taxes, of course, because we taxpayers won’t stand for it. Whatever the consequences — potholes, scary crumbling bridges, closed schools, etc. — we can’t bear the thought of another red cent in taxes. But at the same time, we’re expected to support more elaborate services in towns and schools, larger and better equipped police and fire departments, longer legislative sessions, more benefits to the sick and homeless. Where does the money come from? Washington? That’s our taxes, too. Oh, that’s right, we will magically create new businesses, which will make more jobs, which will generate those revenues. How could I forget that?
Oh, and what about that increased need for electric power? Well, we don’t need it here in Maine, we make more than we use. Why don’t we sell it to Boston and New York and make lots of money? Just don’t ask us to cut down trees on our mountaintops, dam our rivers or allow pipelines through our state to send that power to them. Somehow we expect to make money on those ventures anyway. I haven’t figured out how that’ll work, but I hear Harry Potter’s available to lend us a hand.
And our schools. Yes, our lovely little neighborhood schools, you know, where we “villagers” can watch out for our children as they walk to school every day, and learn their ABC’s — oops, I mean “life skills” — so they can take all those jobs that will be waiting for them. Oh. Sorry, those schools have been closed (I mean “consolidated”). I guess life skills don’t include daily exercise, learning to take care of oneself in one’s own neighborhood, or getting to know one’s neighbors. That’s OK, our children will magically learn all those skills in other ways, somehow, and without the village’s help. On the Internet, I suppose.
Ah, the Internet. What do we need teachers and parents for, anyway, since everything anyone ever needs to know is there at the merest click of a finger? Never have to go out, touch another human, use a library, walk in a forest, or even go out to work. Now that’s real magic!
Anne L. Hess is a retired neuropsychologist in Stillwater.