Tip #654: Words Matter

“There is no sin except stupidity.”  Oscar Wilde

There has been considerable discussion in the news lately regarding words- what was said, what wasn’t said, what was meant, how it was interpreted, if harm was intended, if defensiveness was justified, etc.

This is not a new occurrence, and has probably existed from the time that language was developed and used.

Here is an exploration of how the choice of words can make a great difference in the meaning and resulting impact of a communication.

Frederick Lewis Donaldson identified what he considered “The Seven Social Sins” during a sermon he gave in Westminster Abbey, London, on March 20, 1925:

Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without character.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Worship without sacrifice.
Politics without principle.

An unidentified friend sent this list to Mohandas Gandhi, who published it in his weekly newspaper, Young India, on October 22, 1925. Gandhi commented after the list that: “Naturally, the friend does not want the readers to know these things merely through the intellect but to know them through the heart so as to avoid them.”

It is said that he gave the list to his grandson Arun Gandhi on their final day together shortly before Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated. For some reason, Arun Gandhi preferred to describe this list of negative qualities as the “Seven Blunders of the World” that lead to violence.

He also added an eighth blunder:

Rights without responsibilities.

I wondered if the rephrasing had any impact on the original meaning, so I checked out how “blunder” and “sin” are defined.

Sin is defined as an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law. 

Blunder is defined as a stupid or careless mistake.

So, blunder is an error in judgment, something done unintentionally.

Sin, on the other hand, is more than a mistake. It is a deliberate choice to do something that is known to be wrong.

It could be argued that lack of conscience, character, morality, humanity, principle and/or responsibility is due to ignorance that causes an error in judgment. If so, then these values might conceivably be taught by making the perpetrators aware that their behavior is immoral and helping them to adopt these values.

This requires their willingness to be self-reflective and make changes, for which there is no guarantee.

But when I consider the list of actions, I think that most, if not all of them require and reflect a conscious decision:

  • not to work,
  • to seek one’s own pleasure without concern about how it might affect others,
  • to conduct business without scruples or honesty,
  • to conduct scientific experiments without regard to the harm or pain they might inflict,
  • to govern outside the law or standards of conduct, or
  • to feel entitled without merit or a sense of obligation.

As cruel political and devastating social events seem to unfold with obvious intention throughout the world, I believe that Donaldson’s original terminology is the most accurate. These are social sins against humanity.

May your learning be sweet.


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