I recently read the book Cultish:
and I was struck by a particular idea that the author shared. This book, subtitled “The language of fanaticism,” lays out the linguistic strategies used by people who want to control the thinking of others. The author outlines language habits of religious cults, MLM marketers, and other groups of “true believers,” and how they choose their words to persuade each other and to gain new followers. One concept she shares is “thought terminating cliches” – what I call roadblock words.
These roadblock words are words or phrases that are meant to stop you from thinking further. You’re supposed to bump up against them, then shut off your critical thinking process. Examples include “fake news,” or “it’s God’s will,” or “just do it.” You can probably think of many more – words that your parents said to get you to stop resisting their directives, words that you learned in organizations (company slogans are big here), or words that people are taught to use as a “mantra” to help fight addiction.
Roadblock words, in and of themselves, are not “bad” … they can be useful reminders to curb our behavior. But if we reflect on this concept, we can better recognize when we’re allowing these words to stop us from thinking further on an issue, to stop us from using our critical skills, to stop us from exploring new avenues. And if we can recognize when we’re bumping up against these words, we can push them aside, and refuse to allow them to control us.
I encourage all of us to take a moment to think on this, and to identify the linguistic roadblocks we use, and which are used on us, so that we can recognize and interrupt this process when it happens.
Let’s strive to be expansive in our thinking.