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Dotting the i’s

Oct 22,2022 - Last updated at Oct 22,2022

If we do not dot the i’s in Arabic, it is difficult to read the words correctly, since several letters in the Arabic language must be dotted. As a result, signifiers become mixed up, and misunderstanding happens.

Experts, of course, may be able to read the words and understand sentences correctly, without the need to dot. And once upon a time, Arabic letters were not dotted.

Language, however, is a means of communication for all, and not just the experts, and therefore language, just like any living being, grows and develops over time, and hence came the need to dot, for precision and in order to eliminate confusion and misunderstanding.

This is a well-known linguistic fact.

What applies to letters, words, and sentences applies to meanings in social situations. And this is what we wish to address in this article.

In people’s conversations these days, be they experts or non-experts, some jump over dots on letters and, therefore, cause confusion and misunderstanding. As is known to all, speaking and writing venues are available to all at this moment in time, and the non-experts seem to be the more vocal.

This is why sticking to rules is crucial.

As a result of jumping over basic rules, misunderstanding and confusion happen at several levels. In what follows, I wish to highlight four common interconnected instances of this disturbing phenomenon.

The first has to do with people’s tendency to resort to sweeping generalisations in relaying their points, and to jumping over precise details. Such sweeping generalisations in much of the discourse take essentially two forms: exaggerating the positive implications of matters, as if we were living in a utopia; or dwelling on their utter negativity, as if we were in the dark ages, or in a so-called failed state.

In this acute dualistic condition, where matters are always seen as diametrically opposed, what is lacking is balance, precision, middle-ground, or common sense.

And this is sad, and dangerous.

The second pertains to opposing all that is said and done. And this is a widespread phenomenon, in which the learned and unlearned partake; as if what is required of individuals is to say “no” to everything, the positive before the negative.

This is “opposition” at its worst, and this is what many seem to think opposition is: always the “nay” saying.

Many in our society are under the impression, it seems, that seeing eye-to-eye with others is unbecoming, and that appreciating what others say or do belittles the worth of what they themselves say or do. In this perverse situation, respect or empathy becomes a sign of weakness.

The third is the tendency to take issues out of context, which leads to the promotion and popularisation of half-truths, inaccuracies, fallacies, and outright lies, at the expense of truths or opinions grounded in firm contexts.

This unhealthy practice is often manifested in wild or fallacious comparisons. Those who resort to it, for example, cite a good practice from a well-developed country for the sole purpose of revealing our general failure, deliberately avoiding to highlight a good practice we have which is not to be found in such a developed country. The ultimate aim is to put us down by blowing our failings or vices out of proportion, as if other countries are all perfect, and we are deformed.

The fourth, which has become a malignant practice by many, is to elevate words above action. It is as if, in this deviant state, what is important for a person is to “say” things, and not to “do”.  At times, in fact, one gets the impression that many of them mistake saying for doing; as if saying something is doing it.

Speaking about “honesty,” for example, replaces honesty itself. And the same goes for diligence, reliability, efficiency, creativity, etc.

Just say things, and you have done them.

This is why our society is, in many ways, drowning in an ocean of words, and very little is done.

When individuals jump over dots in their discourse, when they are imprecise, we lose the precious opportunity to see the significant initiatives and achievements which have materialised or are materialising in our society, as well as to tackle head-on and with effective action the many challenges and problems which have been plaguing us for decades, and which need a clear vision and a precise action to address.

Sweeping generalisations, taking things out of context, the elevation of words above action, and negativity are all practices which harm us beyond measure.

This has got to stop.

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