Code Words And Cultures!
By John Roughan
All cultures and languages use abbreviations, short speech patterns and code language when communicating. They are people's short hand way of speaking with each other. Speakers, however, are also aware that certain words conceal as much as they reveal. In English, for instance, many abbreviations and shortened phrases are just what they say they are, e.g. asap, thumbs up, right on, ok, etc. They are easily understood and accepted.
However, there are some words that conceal more than they reveal. There is little problem in such cases so long as one realizes that the code words being used have their meaning, surface as well as hidden, and both levels are understood.
Difficulty arises when a speaker attaches special meaning to a word and the listener has something else in mind. In the Solomons, for instance, when someone uses the word 'help', many times it means something special. How many times people have come to my office and asked for help! When I say, "Yes, I'll be glad to help! Do you need information, advice or direction?" However, by the look on the questioner's face, it's obvious that the help asked for has little to do with giving more information, advice or with direction!
Of course, I now know that the word 'help' is code word for money, either an outright gift or on rare occasions, a loan. Such an encounter, however, is easily dealt with and the initial misunderstanding is cleared. However, there are other words that are more difficult to deal with because the misunderstanding goes so deep that it has become part of the discourse throughout the country.
The word 'development', unfortunately, has now won for itself the dubious distinction of a code word that conceals much more than it reveals. Depending upon who uses the word and in what context it is used, there is a world of difference between what Honiara's elite considers 'development' and what a typical villager thinks about it. The difference is as vast as between chalk and cheese.
Honiara's elite, business men, bureaucrats and politicians and not a few of their followers have already staked out clearly what development means in their lives. It's about easy, quick and comfortable travel-hilux motor vehicle and jet plane--, overseas food and much of it, 24/7 entertainment and serious amounts of leisure time. All of these, of course, demand heaps of money.
Villagers, on the other hand, carry about quite another understanding of development. For them, peace, peace and more peace lies at the heart of any kind of development. Peace, especially since our disastrous Social Unrest years, 1998-2003, is not a given, not something that falls to us automatically. Peace is about healthy relationships between and among people. It needs constant watchfulness, continuous up grading and consistent repair to keep it alive and well. Peace for the typical villager is really a code word for development.
Closely allied with peace is people's struggle for progress-quality education, well stocked clinics, reliable and affordable transport, working local markets, etc. These must be on going and growing. Once these building blocks become part of society's social fabric for a number of years, then prosperity-modest amounts of money for such 'luxuries' as salt, sugar, tea, coffee, tinned meat and fish, etc.-begin to take hold.
Villagers really don't avidly seek hilux and jet travel but yearn for reliable, affordable and better resourced sea and land transport. While the typical village woman wouldn't turn up her nose at overseas kaikai, she votes overwhelmingly for solid garden food and local seafood diet for the family. Entertainment, like salt in food . . . a little goes a long way, is kept in balance. Village women, in a new development millennium, would enjoy huge amounts of leisure time is a fairy tale that is best forgotten.
This development understanding, better called The Basic Life, is a far cry from the development understanding that is constantly spoken about by our national elite.
If the word 'development' is properly unpackaged, clarified and re-evaluated, then much of the confusion now surrounding the word and concept could begin to disappear. Of course, if that were to take place, then much of today's development rhetoric would have to be re-visited and ultimately done away with. At least in this one case, the code word would no longer hide as much as it reveals.
J. Roughan - 29 August 2004, Honiara