This past weekend our 3-year-old grandson and his parents joined some other family members for a hike. His mom told me how excited he had become getting ready go, chattering away about the hike. We all met at the park and hit the trail. Grandson walked alongside his mom for a while and then turned to her with a puzzled look. “Where’s the hike?”
We got a chuckle out of that question, but I marveled at his perspective on the word. In his young language-processing brain, he figured a hike must be a thing given the “a” article, and at his concrete stage of thinking, things are tangible things. So, he came looking for some real thing called a hike. He kept me smiling the whole weekend.
When he stayed with me on Friday, we took a nature walk around the yard and collected interesting things and learned the names of them. He repeated the word “acorn” and picked up two fists full of them. Even though I had a bag, he held onto them, but eventually he had to let them go because he wanted to play in the sandpile. He turned to me and started to speak but he hesitated. Then he held out the two handfuls of acorns and said, “Hold my pineapples.” He could not remember the word “acorn,” so he substituted another one.
Those cute mistakes reminded me of an example I remembered from a sermon years ago. In illustrating a point about understanding terminology, the pastor told the story of a young boy memorizing scripture assigned by his parents. The boy had disobeyed them somehow, so they demanded that he memorize the biblical command, “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” He dutifully repeated the words, and on the next occasion of his misbehavior, they had him repeat the words again: “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” That pattern continued until one day the boy stopped and with a quizzical look said, “Daddy, what’s a parent?”
It is easy to assume that children have acquired words and know the meanings, things like a hike, acorns, or parents. We are caught off guard when we realize that they do not know what we know. In our adult interactions, I am not so sure communication works any better at times. Often, as cruel Captain in “Cool Hand Luke” growled, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
In the ruckus over some Dr. Seuss books and earlier cartoons, the words “cancel” and “cancel culture” kept coming up, and I used the word “cancel” in a social media post, not knowing the reaction it would cause from some people who feel that cancel culture is a term for minimizing the efforts of those working toward social justice.
I have never studied the phrase “cancel culture,” only acquiring a general sense of the term through articles and commentaries. I grabbed the word attempting to communicate that I felt Dr. Seuss the man should not be vilified because over the course of his life he changed his views and removed inappropriate, offensive images and words created in his younger days. To portray him as a horrible racist in a blanket kind of way is wrong.
I marveled that a young woman questioned why people would think that removing some of his books from the market would be considered cancel culture. She genuinely did not know why that was happening. She did not understand that others see the censorship of those books, as opposed to editing them as a former children’s librarian suggested, smacked of the elimination of all things offensive to all people, an impossible task.
On my part, I did not realize that using the word “cancel” and the phrase “cancel culture” would label me as a xenophobic, conservative defender of conspiracy theories! I have also learned that the term has been brandished by those of all political positions to attack others for perceived violations of free speech.
I got out of that tight place with the removal of my social media post. Next time I will be more careful in my word choices. But then again, I might just tell people to hold my pineapples and not worry about it.