Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"A cry for help" when language has become corrupted

I've recently seen this image shared around, and it has apparently saved lives.  That's good, and the sentiment is good, but it also points to somewhere that we've allowed language to become corrupted and lead us astray.  The relevant quote is:
"A cry for help" makes it sound like I'm supposed to take pity on you.  But you don't need my pity.
That's right, in our culture there's something shameful about needing help, and so "a cry for help" does sound like something that should cause us to take pity.  That's fucked up.  That's deeply fucked up.  It has fucked up our language.  That is not how "a cry for help" should sound to us.  That is not what the words mean.

It might not be a problem if "help" had taken on a new meaning, but help still means help and thus the fact that needing it is somehow looked on as shameful and pitiful is fucked up.

If help didn't mean help anymore then I'd chalk it up to the natural evolution of language.  Pity and Pathetic have both changed from their original meanings into something negative, I'm not going to try to change them back.  But for as long as help means help "a cry for help" shouldn't be cause for present-meaning-pity.

This video is of a cry for help being announced and various people reacting to it:


Is there anyone in that video who pities Gondor?  Is there anyone who thinks Gondor is Pathetic?

Of course not.  When Gondor cries for help we take it seriously, because Gondor is a fictional kingdom that the forces of Mordor and its allies intend to obliterate.  That kind of cry for help we take seriously.  It's when real people cry for help that we break out the pity.

That's wrong.  It's a twisted part of our culture, and it's corrupting our language.

The next time you hear about a cry for help imagine that Aragorn just sprinted into the room and announced, "Gondor calls for aid."  You should take the first as seriously as the second.

12 comments:

  1. I think part of what drives it is that it's harder to see the forces of depression than the forces of Mordor. When you combine that with the ideology of hard work - which condemns those who shirk their duties and force others to take up the slack - there's a lot of room for a lack of empathy and concern to make people act unjustly.

    (FYI, the comic is from Boggle! - I believe this is the original Tumblr post.)

    (I really like this one on anxiety, too.)

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    1. I think part of what drives it is that it's harder to see the forces of depression than the forces of Mordor.

      I think that's part of it too, but it's also harder to see the forces of most forms of cancer for anyone not directly involved in a cancer patient's medical care, yet we tend to take cancer very seriously.

      Invisibility is definitely a part of the problem, but there seems to be so much more going on.

      (I meant to post this as a reply originally, so I'm just copying the content here and deleting the other version the post from 3 hours ago.)

      Delete
  2. I think part of the problem is that "helpless" has stopped meaning "in need of help" and started meaning "pathetic waste." Needing a stick to stay alive - when one doesn't have a stick - is being helpless. Until someone gives you that stick, which is helping someone.

    All the comparisons in the comic are good, but the message should be that it's fucking okay to ask for help. Which feels like it got lost in there somewhere.

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    1. the message should be that it's fucking okay to ask for help. Which feels like it got lost in there somewhere.

      That's my basic thinking as well.

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    2. It would be so much better if it were pointing out that it's brave and strong and what not to ask for help. And have a companion piece aimed at the people who think there's something wrong with other people asking for help, or who think that people who need help don't deserve it.

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  3. Replies
    1. You're welcome. I also wrote a long rambly thing about depression and anger and stuff and then the internet ate it.

      You should write a post about the internal vs. external conflict plots in movies. (Or another post, if you already have...)

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  4. As those wise philosophers Lennon and McCartney once said
    "Help me, if you can; I'm feeling down.
    And I do appreciate you bieng 'round.
    Help me get my feet back on the ground.
    Won't you please, please help me?"

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    1. (except their spelling was better)

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  5. This made a tough day better for me. Thank you for this awesome post.

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