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Rethinking controversy - what if those words don't mean what we think they mean?

Rethinking controversy - what if those words don't mean what we think they mean?

Talk at PyCon Ireland 2016.

Certain words, like certain people, have a habit of being found at the scenes of trouble.

Daniele Procida

October 25, 2015

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  1. All about me Daniele Procida [email protected] EvilDMP on IRC, GitHub,

    Twitter, etc Django Project core developer Django software developer at Divio
  2. Information and communications technology I used to be a high

    school teacher, and for a while I taught a subject called ICT - Information and Communications Technology. “Communications”, because (apparently) it included fax machines. There were various odd things about all this, but one particularly odd thing was that as far as I could tell, none of my colleagues were in the slightest bit interested in any of those three concepts, or what the words might be about. But I love words, and I think that these words are particularly interesting. What they have come to mean has shifted and slid over time, in ways that are sometimes quite troublesome. That makes them even more fascinating to me, because I like troublesome words as much as I enjoy troublesome people. It’s interesting to be around them and you can always learn something new.
  3. political and moral controversies If you do pay attention to

    the moral and political controversies of our industry, one thing you’ll notice that is remarkable is the extent to which they are controversies about words. That is, in one way or another, words are right at the heart of them. This is partly because our work means we spend most of our time sitting at keyboards and connected to the Internet, ideal tools for spewing out words to wide audiences. It’s not just this: I think it’s also because our industry and certain troublesome words are tangled up in each other.
  4. Everybody’s watching ❖ what they say ❖ what other people

    say ❖ what their documentation, advertisements and t-shirts say At any rate, people in the industry spend a great deal of time paying a lot of attention to words, and spending a lot of energy disputing over them. They are concerned with what things are called, how people should be addressed, what new words are needed to do what old words couldn’t, inventing new words, defending the language against the people who are inventing new words or using old words in new ways, and so on.
  5. a reputation for earnestness In the Python community we have

    a reputation for being quite earnest about these matters. The more insouciant parts of the industry do like to have a bit of a snigger at our expense, as we agonise over questions that wouldn't trouble them for more than a moment. I'll talk about some of them in due course. The reputation isn't undeserved, but in any case we're just going to have to live with it. And I think there's nothing wrong with being a bit earnest.
  6. …let’s agonise with insight and awareness. let’s agonise with insight

    and awareness. And I think we can do part of this work at least by paying the right kind of attention to words.
  7. Appealing to etymology annoying wrong unhelpful Some people love appealing

    to the etymology of words to settle disputes or at least prove points. Unfortunately, when they do this they are usually unhelpful, annoying or wrong, or some combination of the three. Also, there’s the danger of being mistaken for a smart-arse thirteen-year-old who has just discovered how to use a dictionary. Still, I think it won't hurt to look at where words and their meanings come from; I think that it can shed some light. Understanding how things have changed helps us understand what they are now, even if etymology won't reveal the true meaning of words to us.
  8. Irony The etymology of etymology ❖ etymon: true meaning ❖

    -logia: science of Ironically, the word etymology itself referred to "true meaning" in ancient Greek - etymon, true meaning; -logia; study or science of. Wishful thinking. You really can’t rely on etymology to prove anything.
  9. Technology ❖ techne: skill, craft ❖ practical knowledge ❖ included:

    medicine, navigation, agriculture, commerce, engineering But with that warning in mind, let’s see what we can do with it. Technology comes from the ancient Greek techne: skill, or craft, that is, practical knowledge of doing things. It included disciplines such as medicine, navigation and agriculture, or commerce or engineering - anything involving some kind of practical management of the world around us. So technology is the science or study of these things, these skills and crafts. Plato is very interested in techne, because he considers practical pursuits such as living rightly or ruling well to be examples of techne too (and decent, honest, meritorious crafts, as opposed to suspect, dishonest, meretricious arts, like music or cooking). As I said, my colleagues in the ICT department didn't ever seem interested in talking about this sort of thing or what they thought technology might be all about, though there was a woodwork teacher in the Design & Technology department who seemed to be quite thrilled about the idea that Plato approved of him, and that the technology in the name of his department represented his craft, rather than the computers that some of his colleagues wanted everybody to be using to teach and learn.
  10. Technology ❖ was study or science of practical skills ❖

    became the exercise of those practical skills ❖ is now things - tools, machinery, devices, equipment Until the twentieth century, that’s what technology meant: the science or study of practical skills or crafts. Around one hundred years ago, a new meaning started to appear; technology started to refer also to the business of exercising those skills, to the skills and crafts themselves. And very swiftly, it started to include the tools, the machinery, devices and instruments involved in those skills and crafts, and their output or products - things.
  11. activity > thing Technology becomes something ❖ to consume, rather

    than learn or study ❖ morally neutral, rather than a good Technology We’ve seen a shift in meaning, from study and skill to tools and equipment. Our relationship with technology has changed, from the relationship we have with a science to that we have with a thing. We now tend to speak and think of technology as something to acquire or possess, rather than to study. Under the old meaning, there was an implication of value, that is, of skill and human agency and purpose; as a tool, it’s just morally neutral stuff. We can’t say that this newer meaning is wrong, or that the old one was better. It just is. Still, it seems a bit of a shame, and something has been lost with the old meaning. Under the old notion of technology, there was an implicit invitation to learn, to dive into it.
  12. activity > thing Communication: from the Latin to share ❖

    activity: conveying something to another ❖ thing: the conduit between things, the content communicated Communication It happens to other concepts too. Communication and information have undergone similar shifts. They are metaphorical words, and the dominant metaphors represented in them have shifted, to the extent now that the original dominant metaphors are hard to spot sometimes. Communication referred to the activity of sharing, of actions that carry something from one to another. Now, the dominant metaphor is one in which communication is some sort of conduit between things, or container that carries them, or sometimes also the communicated content. It’s another shift from agency to object.
  13. activity > thing Information: from the Latin to give shape

    to ❖ activity: shaping, pressing form into something ❖ thing: the content of communication or thought, data Information This is even more evident in the case of information, where the dominant metaphor has drifted much further than in the case of communication. Information was the act of pressing a shape into something, to give it a form - consider the acts of formation, deformation, reformation. Now, the dominant sense of information is the content of communication - stuff that can be passed around, stored in a computer system.
  14. Twentieth-century shift agency > thing technology communication information study or

    science > tools, machinery communicative action > conduit, container shaping, impressing > content
  15. Does it matter? Does this actually matter? And if it

    does, does it actually matter very much, enough to be bothered about? Well, let’s consider the work that words like information, communication and technology do.
  16. Information in bioethics ❖ there is a crisis in bioethics,

    around informed consent ❖ if information is content, informed consent is unattainable ❖ rethinking information as activity offers a solution If we can take a digression into bioethics: there is a crisis in this discipline, and it’s not a just an academic problem, but one that now affects anyone who faces choices in clinical treatment. The Nuremberg Code of 1947 and the Declaration of Helsinki in 1964 were attempts to respond to the horrors of Nazi medical practice by asserting autonomy (of the research subject or the patient) as a core value in bioethics; they were part of a sustained project in bioethics, that continues today. The notion of informed consent is right at the heart of this project; without it, autonomy is impossible. Unfortunately, this project is in difficulty. It demands and reaches for very high and rigorous standards of consent. But, the gap between demanded and possible consent can’t be closed.
  17. Information in bioethics ❖ there is a crisis in bioethics,

    around informed consent ❖ if information is content, informed consent is unattainable ❖ rethinking information as activity offers a solution The problem lies in the dominant model of autonomy, in which autonomy is aligned with choice - to choose or refuse treatment, to choose between treatments, to choose whether or not or how to participate as a research subject, and it’s increasingly modelled after the kind of choice we have as consumers. In this model, we are given all the information about our available choices, and allowed to make the one that suits us. That works tolerably well for buying washing machines and iPhones, perhaps, but very badly in medicine. Most of us can’t understand the information; the more of it there is, the harder it is to make our judgements. The urge is to pile on more information to make the consent more informed, and this has the opposite effect. Research ethics committees pump out huge and bewildering consent forms in a desperate attempt to close the gap, so that research subjects - people like you and me - can make satisfactory judgements about “the aims, methods, sources of funding, and any possible conflicts of interest, institutional affiliations, the anticipated benefits and potential risks” before consenting to participating in a study. Worse, in the ever-more desperate attempt to secure informed consent this kind of information is even provided to clinical subjects, who are somehow expected to make the same judgements. This doesn’t happen just in rarified circles of medical practice. Probably most people have had the experience of a medical consultation in which we are presented with some options, and asked to choose, with the clinician sitting back and waiting for us to make our choice as if they were waiting for us to choose which washing machine or iPhone we wanted. They have given us the information, so that now we can give our informed consent. And the responsibility for the choice is ours.
  18. Information in bioethics ❖ there is a crisis in bioethics,

    around informed consent ❖ if information is content, informed consent is unattainable ❖ rethinking information as activity offers a solution And what is happening here is that all the attention is on the question of consent, while the question of information has been neglected. If information is stuff, content, data with meaning, then shovelling it all in the direction of the medical subject is all you can do. But if we rethink information, turn to the older metaphor, then the picture changes. Informing the medical subject becomes a question of how the activity of information is pursued, a responsibility for the clinician or researcher. It brings agency back into the model of communication, placing informed consent in the communicative transactions that take place between agents, relying on values of honesty, clarity, intelligibility, relevance, comprehension, attention to the needs and abilities of the other party, affirmation of mutual understanding and so on. So yes, it can matter very much what metaphors or senses are at work in the way we use familiar words like information and technology, and we need to be aware of them and how they have shifted, and what the implications of those shifts are.
  19. Documentation as information ❖ RTFM, LMGTFY Here’s another example, closer

    to home. Have you ever hesitated to ask for help with a programming question, for example on IRC, because you felt that the answer was already out there if only you knew how to find it, or perhaps, how to understand it, and that you might be invited, possibly with some irritation, to Read the Fucking Manual by someone who thought you were just being lazy or stupid? You might be right to hesitate; people who already know things can be remarkably forgetful about how they learned them, or what it was like not to know them, and they’re not always sympathetic and friendly to people who don’t yet know them. (In other words, they can’t remember a time before they became smart-arse thirteen-year-olds, and quite frankly, some of them are at risk of never moving past that stage.)
  20. Perhaps you’ve asked a question and someone has replied with

    a link to the sarcastic let me Google that for you website. I hate that website and what it stands for, because it stands for putting down people who are asking for help in understanding something, and telling them that the reason they don’t understand what they want to know is that they are not good enough to learn it. Insofar as information is content, it’s possible to think and respond like this. The information is out there, and it’s freely available to anyone with an Internet connection, so go ahead, help yourself to the information and if you don’t, that’s your problem.
  21. Documentation as information ❖ RTFM, LMGTFY ❖ documentation becomes a

    sign of respect ❖ documentation and information represent the way we treat people in our community But if we think of information as an activity, as a series of communicative transactions between agents, this changes. Just as in the case of informed consent, informing people becomes a question of how the activity of information is pursued. Once more it brings agency back into the model of communication, demanding that we respect those values of honesty, clarity, intelligibility, relevance, comprehension, attention to the needs and abilities of the other party, affirmation of mutual understanding and so on. When you’re doing that, you can’t pretend you are informing people by telling them to read the fucking manual or sarcastically Googling it for them. In software, good documentation, and a default position that if someone doesn’t understand it then the problem lies in the documentation rather than the person who struggled to understand, becomes a sign of respect, an expression of those values. In the Django community, we’re quite rightly proud of this. One of the keys to its success has been the quality of its documentation. It’s perhaps the best documentation that any open-source software project has produced - ever. Django’s documentation sets standards, expectations and the tone for communication, especially for communication with less expert users of it.
  22. Documentation as information ❖ RTFM, LMGTFY ❖ documentation becomes a

    sign of respect ❖ documentation and information represent the way we treat people in our community I have an interesting experience. If I tell a software developer that I’m a member of the Django core development team, then - if they know what Django is - they seem suitably impressed. Then they ask me what I work on, and the answer is: documentation, mainly. Other programmers from outside the Python community generally find it hard to hide their sudden disappointment, even embarrassment or a species of bewildered incomprehension: …documentation? It’s as if they thought they were being introduced to Superman and now it turns out it’s just Clark Kent. Sometimes, I get the impression that that one of the possibilities crossing their mind is that I am telling some sort of joke. When I say to a Python or Django user that my main role is contributing to documentation, typically the reaction I get is Oh, documentation! Great! I get similar responses to my job title. I’m officially a Community and documentation manager. I’ve seen some other programmers almost recoil when they read that on my business card; the Python/Django developers tend to seem a lot more pleased to see it. What all this means, I think, is that in this community, in some contexts at least, we do think of information as the activity of informing, something we do, rather than as a collection of content, and that this idea of information has had real, meaningful, beneficial consequences for people who use Python and Django. And if you want to see the result, go ahead and try asking your questions on IRC, in the Python or Django channels, and see whether you are told to read the manual or whether someone seems to think that it’s part of their responsibility to help inform you.
  23. Technology and skill ❖ technology in schools fails to produce

    the desired results ❖ if technology is stuff, no wonder people just want to buy it ❖ rethinking technology around skill offers an alternative Another example, about the word technology this time. The education system - in the United Kingdom, at any rate - is obsessed with technology. Technology in schools is a mantra, an ambition, a fervent desire on the part of head teachers and of education secretaries in successive governments. You can’t visit a British school without having someone brag at you about technology in the classroom. They’re certainly more eager to tell you about their IT suites, iPads and interactive whiteboards than they are to tell you about their actual teachers. Unfortunately, all the evidence suggests that this enthusiasm for computer equipment not only fails to procure any educational advantage, it appears to have the opposite effect. Just last month there was another report, this time from the OECD, that concluded that there were no appreciable improvements in key subjects in nations that had invested heavily in IT in schools, that pupils who are encouraged to use computers frequently in schools get worse results, that the school systems that do the best have much lower levels of computer use - even when it comes to learning digitals skills, never mind all those other skills that pupils need to learn. The UK, needless to say, is amongst the countries with the highest expenditure on digital equipment in schools, and the highest use in the classroom - and far poorer attainment than any country with its wealth and resources should be achieving. Politicians and headteachers are dazzled by digital gadgets. I’ve seen crows who were able to muster a more critical attitude towards shiny things. And classroom teachers seem to be either complicit in this uncritical conspiracy, or unable to find ways to resist it. Once again, what is at work here is a notion that technology is a thing, that you consume, buy, splatter indiscriminately around the classroom.
  24. Technology and skill ❖ technology in schools fails to produce

    the desired results ❖ if technology is stuff, no wonder people just want to buy it ❖ rethinking technology around skill offers an alternative If we return to our idea of technology as being concerned with skill - techne - on the other hand, then we can see that expecting children to learn technology (i.e. to learn skills) by surrounding them with tools and equipment is like expecting to learn by sleeping with books under your pillow. If anyone is wondering, it doesn’t work. I was an information technology teacher in high school, and what I wanted to do was teach and share skills. Now of course that would involve teaching pupils how to use tools and equipment, but I was dismayed to discover that teaching the use of tools was almost the only thing I was expected to do (in fact, using the tools of a single software manufacturer).
  25. Technology, magic and skill –Arthur C. Clarke “Any sufficiently advanced

    technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C Clarke famously said: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Does technology refer to tools and machinery, or to techne? To lasers and face-recognition software, or to skill and craft? To things, or to agency? Well, there is a magic in skills, but there’s no magic in tools or equipment. The way a saw for example cuts is not like magic, clever though it may be; what seems like magic is seeing someone’s skill at work, transforming materials and the world. A computer isn’t magical, but seeing a good programmer exercise their skill is. It doesn’t matter in which discipline the skill lies: in programming, woodwork, a martial art, building consensus, teaching, playing an instrument - it’s the skill, the craft, the techne, that is indistinguishable from magic, if it’s exercised by someone of sufficiently advanced skill, and not the shiny tools and the gadgets and the software they do it with. Anyone who learns a new skill is familiar with that experience, the thrill of holding new magic and power. This was all missing in the teaching I was supposed to be doing, and I didn’t stay an IT teacher for very long. And this, and that millions of pounds have been wasted buying unnecessary stuff to fail to educate children, can be traced back to a problem about words, to our having lost or forgotten a sense of technology that implied agency, skill, techne. So yes, I think it does matter.
  26. Baggage-laden words So far we have seen how even innocent

    and apparently uncontroversial and unpolitical words like information and technology can have very significant political, ethical and social implications. No-one’s exactly fighting or getting excited over words like information, except maybe people like me and some bioethicists. If words like information and technology can be at the root of such difficulties, what about words that are already baggage-laden and divisive?
  27. What do these rugs have in common? What do these

    rugs have in common? The answer is that they both caused far more trouble to their owners than they ever expected. In the case of the Big Lebowski rug, it was just bad luck, a case of mistaken identity.
  28. But here’s the GitHub rug, with a troublesome word brazenly

    woven into it. (They got rid of it eventually.)
  29. meritocracy: in which power and advancement come to those who

    have earned it, who are worthy of it ❖ our industry: sexist, racist, exclusionary ❖ it’s a myth: a story that serves a purpose Why is meritocracy a dirty word? What’s wrong with meritocracy? It’s such a humble word, and even that nice Tony Blair praised the idea of a meritocratic society. Meritocracy is the notion that power should go not to those who are born to it, or given it by their powerful friends, or manage to wrest it from someone else, but to those who deserve it because they have earned it. It’s a very old concept, and most people seem to think it’s a good thing. So why does it cause so much fuss? There are good reasons for being suspicious of the word. The software industry in general - and open source software in particular - is accused of being sexist, racist and exclusionary, ruled over by a very narrow class of individuals, almost all white and male. It’s possible that white men just are better at creating software than other people, but you have to admit it seems most unlikely. Yet, there they are, at the top, making the decisions, leading the way. And they seem to run, whether they consciously or deliberately mean to or not, a kind of ship in which only people who are much like them find it easy to become captains. It does seem to be an industry in which white men continue to advance other white men to the exclusion of people who aren’t white men.
  30. meritocracy: in which power and advancement come to those who

    have earned it, who are worthy of it ❖ our industry: sexist, racist, exclusionary ❖ it’s a myth: a story that serves a purpose Why is meritocracy a dirty word? So announcing proudly that an industry, or a company, is a meritocracy must stick in the craw of the people who feel they work just as hard and just as well as the ones who get invited to the captain’s table and get to be best buddies with him, but seem to be persistently, as a class, overlooked. The notion that it is a meritocracy meanwhile functions as a very useful myth: if it’s a meritocracy, and you’re not doing so well, it’s your fault. I’m not responsible. So you ought not to complain, and I don’t need to feel to bothered about your lack of advancement. So you can see why critics of the industry would like to tear down this particular myth, because it works only in the interests of the class of individuals who already hold the power. Sometimes people will resist these attacks on meritocracy, often with a certain amount of irritation and scorn, noting that just because a practice fails to live up to a promise does not necessarily devalue a concept, and that what matters, after all, is the value that lies in the concept. Especial scorn is reserved for attempts to prescribe the use of words, like meritocracy, as a wrong-headed assault on the freedom to use words while failing to address actual problems in the world, and worse, taking a good word that means a good thing that we should be proud of, and cynically trying to make it mean something bad and shameful, for political purposes.
  31. The Rise of the Meritocracy Michael Young, 1958 In the

    case of meritocracy, this irritation is misplaced. While the concept’s quite old, the word is very new (so new that it doesn’t even appear in my 1980s edition of the OED, except in the addenda of newly-listed words). In fact as far as I am aware, the word was created in 1958 by Michael Young, for his sarcastic description of a dystopian society in which power and advancement came to a narrow class of individuals, who were the ones best able to perform well in the various tests and challenges that were used to select its leaders. This narrow class came from the same backgrounds and had the same kind of education; they were also the ones who would devise the tests that measured aptitude and fitness to lead, the ones who made judgements about the worthiness of individuals to lead and the ones responsible for the structure of the system in which they were educated. Meritocracy places a seal of approval on a special minority, and abandons the majority; the meritocratic class reproduces itself and consolidates its position by controlling selection of those who advance to power. In his fictional society, the old social classes had been swept away by the philosophy of merit - creating an equally stratified and rigid new one in its place, ruled by this self-serving meritocratic elite. Unfortunately for Michael Young, meritocracy very swiftly lost its negative meaning, and within a few years politicians’ speechwriters and GitHub’s rug-makers were obliviously weaving it into their handiwork. Maybe they should have read more dystopian literature. Michael Young was appropriately disappointed, but would have been pleased with the critics of meritocracy who are in fact - whether they have read his book or not - asserting a negative, critical meaning for it that is much closer to the original one.
  32. So what? So what does this prove, that in 1958

    someone wrote a sarcastic book whose invented word was then taken up to mean something quite different from the meaning he gave it? Once again, as in the case of other words, like technology or information, we don’t prove anything with an appeal to the origins of a word. But words’ origins are meaningful, and they do illuminate what the words are doing. In the case of meritocracy, even if Tony Blair or GitHub or anyone else uses it to mean something good and wholesome, knowing how it came about helps us understand just how clever the concept is, and how successfully and powerfully it can hide truths and build myths in ways that we should be suspicious of. Some words, like meritocracy, are a site where contesting meanings and metaphors still vie for dominance. (Meritocracy by the way was seized upon by people who wanted to find a worthier alternative to concepts like aristocracy - a word which itself used to mean rule of the best, that is rule of those who have earned the right to it by being the best-qualified, rather than rule of those born to it, or the most powerful, or the wealthiest. How words change…)
  33. Master and slave The Rails on Ruby crowd would have

    a good laugh at all the earnest agonising that goes on in the Django Project, that’s for sure. In May 2014, the Django Project received a pull request concerning databases, suggesting a change from master/slave to leader/follower. Within a few hours it had been accepted, and then amended to primary/replica, which was better anyway. The howls of derision that followed went on for weeks; comments on the pull request piled up until GitHub support finally locked it. It wasn’t just derision, but fury. This didn’t just get up people’s noses, it vigorously tweaked their noses and drove them to remarkable levels of anger. Yes, leader/follower wasn’t a great choice, but that was amended within a couple of hours anyway. So why the rage? I mentioned earlier that especial scorn is reserved for attempts to prescribe the use of words, like meritocracy, as a wrong-headed assault on the freedom to use words while failing to address actual problems in the world. This was certainly such a case. But it was quite clear that the words mattered to people on both sides of the argument, including the ones who didn’t want them to change. They were angry not because someone else was doing something silly or pointless, but doing something that tampered with something that they cared about: words. So some of the fury was certainly misplaced, if not actually self-contradictory: people raging that it’s a mistake to pay too much attention to words, while raging that someone has done something with words.
  34. Master and slave Actually when I saw this change away

    from master/slave, it hadn’t occurred to me that it was a problem; master and slave were familiar terms that referred to all kinds of mechanical and electronic arrangements (such as braking systems, photographic flash units, amplifiers) and it hadn’t once had any political resonance at all. It seemed to me like a fairly pointless but harmless bit of gesture politics that tried to address a problem that didn’t really exist. So my own response was something like: OK, if you really want this and feel it’s important, but I couldn’t say I felt positively about it. But I remembered another conversation I’d had about slavery about ten years earlier. When I was a school teacher, one of the pupils in my school had, in fact, been a slave - an actual slave, trafficked and sold as if he were a thing. He had been found wandering alone at a fairground campsite some years before. He had been purchased, sold, and got rid of. And two weeks after that I had a conversation with someone who told me that he was a slave, an S&M slave, and that was his lifestyle choice. (I do mean lifestyle choice, not just a sexual preference; he chose to live as someone’s slave. I remember asking him if he was allowed to read newspapers or had political opinions, or voted.) And I had felt some outrage; this American in a free country, this free man, playing at being a slave, as if it were the same kind of choice as what clothes to dress up in, and how insulting that seemed to the suffering and horror of the real experience of slavery that had been described to me just a short time before. Ten years later, it took me a while to remember how I had felt about that appropriation of slavery - to remember that I had felt anything about it - but once I had, the notion that the word should be treated with more care by software engineers didn’t seem quite so outlandish.
  35. And why not? We make easy targets with the the

    decisions that we make quite seriously, that many people consider ridiculous.
  36. Here’s another one. And why shouldn’t we? (Quite apart from

    the fact that its our project and we can do what we like with it.) If language and words do matter, then we’re right to pay this sort of attention. And if language and words don’t, then at the very worst we are harmlessly wasting our own time, and nobody has any business complaining.
  37. And so… So where does this leave us? It’s neither

    my purpose not my job to tell anyone what words should mean, and it’s not our business to tell anyone what words they must use. But, words are the way we communicate, and I do think we should be paying attention to them.
  38. Pay attention to words That means paying attention to what

    they mean, what they used to mean, what they could mean. It means exploring the other stories and metaphors and assumptions that are packed into them. It means trying to understand how the meaning of words has shifted; what pressures caused the slip and what the implications are. You can’t expect to solve problems by doing this; problems exist in the world, and that is where their solutions must be found, but you can discover the roots of some problems and clues towards their solution. So pay attention to words. Keep your eyes open.
  39. Look for trouble Look for trouble, or rather, look for

    the words that always seem to be found at the scenes of trouble, the ones that might not mean what we think they mean, and try to be around them, and learn to enjoy their company - because there’s always something new to learn from them.