Words Matter So Pay Attention To How People Use Them

Over the weekend our daughter Abigail and son-in-law Tyler were over for dinner. Abigail asked me about my thoughts around the conflict going on between Israel and the Palestinian’s in Gaza. As you might imagine, it led to a deep conversation about the history of the region and the roots of the conflict. Having read quite a bit about World War II, watched countless documentaries about conflicts in the 20th centrury, and playing military board games as a kid, I am familiar with the Arab-Israeli conflicts over the last 75 years.

We also spent a good bit of time talking about certain words that were being used in pro-Palestinian protests happening around the country. I learned a long time ago that the two people can use the same word but mean different things. Or they may look at the same situation and use very different words to describe it.

Some specific words that came up were genocide, occupation, and apartheid.

Before I go on, let me tell you that Jane and I visited Israel in the early 1990s. It was an amazing trip and one of the biggest revelations for me personally was meeting Palestinian people. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the media portrayal of Palestinians was nothing like the people I met. They were wonderful people who treated us with nothing but kindness and respect.

Another example of contact with foreigners used to take place at a Turkish restaurant in town where Jane and I ate often. When I’d meet people from another country, I would ask what they thought of America. Almost to a person they would say, “We love America, and we love Americans. However, we don’t like your government.” They would go on to share valid reasons for their point of view. I can relate to their sentiment because I liked the Palestinians I met. However, I don’t like their government, Hamas.


According to the Oxford dictionary, genocide is “the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.” When I hear the term genocide, I think of the holocaust, the atrocities in Rwanda, the civil war that happened when Yugoslavia broke apart as a country. In each case people were systematically killed simply because they were part of a group the opposition hated.

From all that I’ve seen, read, and heard, this is not the case with Israel, when it comes to Gaza and the Palestinian people. While there will always be bad individuals who commit autrosities, I do not believe the Israeli government wants to detroy the Palestinian people.


Occupation has to do with an established military presence in a particular area. The Nazi’s occupied the countries they defeated with German troops. After World War II, American troops occupied Germany and Japan, maintaining a presence with soldiers to make sure peace and rebuilding would occur.

By this definition, there has been no occupation of Gaza by Israeli because there have been no troops there since they handed over the land in 2005. There have been blockades at times in order to prevent resources from falling into the hands of Hamas, but there has been no occupation of the land.


To reference the Oxford dictionary again, it’s “a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.” When I hear the term apartheid, I think of South Africa up until the 1990s. With white ruling class, blacks had virtually no rights at all. However, that’s not the case with Arabs living in Israel and it’s not been the case in America with the dismantling of Jim Crow laws. Again, there may be bad actors and pockets of discrimination, and while we have a ways to go in eradicating racism, there’s no denying we’ve come a long way.

Did you know in 2019, Arabs held 10% (13 out of 120) of the seats in the Knesset? That was according to a 2019 article in the Washington Institute. While still underrepresented (Arabs made up 16% of the population of Israel at the time), this is far cry from historically apartheid states.

This isn’t to say that being an Arab living in Israel is easy. I remember hearing their stories and frustrations during our time in Israel. However, if you’ll take the time to watch the Amazon prime documentary, Never Again, you might come away with a different view than what’s being portrayed in demonstrations and much of the mainstream media. One storyline in the documentary is from the viewpoint of a Pakestani man, Kasim Hafeez, who was radicalized while growing up in a predominantly Muslim suburb of London. He was so radicalized that he visited Pakistan to learn how to fight people he believed were infidels. However, when confronted with new information, he began to look into things for himself. What he eventually learned was that the state of Israel and the Jewish people were very different than he was led to believe.

Beyond the Conflict

This misuse of language isn’t limited to the current conflict. In America, we often hear terms like fascist and Nazi tossed around by people with an agenda. It’s done in order to grab attention and ramp up emotions.

I recall a friend saying Donald Trump was a fascist during Covid. I did not vote for Donald Trump, but I felt compelled to challenge my friend’s view. I said, “If he were really a fascist, don’t you think he could use Covid or the riots taking place all around the country as cover for sending in the military?” That simple question caused my friend to pause and reconsider his word choice.

Another incident occurred many years ago while attending a friend’s presentation on global warming. He considered the Obama administration’s information around the topic to be propaganda. During the presentation he went so far as to equate it to Nazi propaganda. After the presentation, he asked what I thought, so I honestly told him, “I think you lost everybody when you equated the Obama administration to the Nazis.”

Here’s the Point

I’m not writing this post to wade into the conflict that’s taking place in Israel. As someone who teaches ethical influence, it always catches my attention when people use inflammatory communication, often blatantly incorrect language, to rile up people to their side. It’s manipulation.

If you follow me, then you likely read my post last week about manipulation within American politics. This isn’t an us versus them, a left versus right, or a Democrat versus Republican issue. This is something we should all be concerned about if we’re concerned about truth because words matter.

Edited with ChatGP

Brian Ahearn

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE and a faculty member at the Cialdini Institute.

An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, Brian helps clients apply influence in everyday situations to boost results.

As one of only a dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers in the world, Brian was personally trained and endorsed by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His latest book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable designed to teach you how to use influence at home and the office.

Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 650,000 people around the world. His TEDx Talk on pre-suasion has more than a million views!

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