Right and Wrong Don’t Matter in the Woods

My brother and I were talking about the background of the area where he lives, and he mentioned a phenomenon about the language. There are certain words that his neighbors do not have, which is nothing noteworthy, as no two languages are going to have identical vocabularies, except that some of the words he listed frankly amazed me. Logic, mindset, proportion, eternity, infinite, science… the two that were most surprising to me were right and wrong.

Imagine a society with no word for “wrong.” How does that even happen? There is a right way to put shoes on, and a wrong way to hold a baby, and so on. It seems only natural that sooner or later, a person will encounter someone else who is doing something in way that is just clearly not correct:

that is right2

that is wrong

My brother said there are words for “beautiful” and “ugly,” which lead me to wonder if those are the go-to labels people would apply to correctness and incorrectness.

that is beautiful

that is ugly

If they do that, maybe judgey people who go around telling others how to raise their kids look like they’re calling each other’s children ugly.

Anyhow, if they don’t have words for the phrase “You are doing that all wrong!” one has to think that they don’t need that phrase very much. Does their vocabulary indicate that their culture is less judgmental or discerning? A possible contributing factor to this is the tendency for people to borrow words from surrounding languages until their native vocabulary has thinned, but I can’t help thinking that the personality of the individuals using the words has a stronger hand in defining the common vocabulary.

The title of this post is a line from Sondheim’s Into the Woods, which I probably talk about too much. The woods are a metaphor for people’s struggles, often surfacing their true character as they journey in and out of them throughout the story. I embedded a clip below of the baker’s wife and Cinderella’s prince meeting in the woods, because of that phrase: “Right and Wrong don’t matter in the woods, only feelings…”

If I were taking my sociology from Stephen Sondheim, I would say that he has an explanation for people allowing those words to go by the wayside, and it’s a matter of not considering them a big enough priority when trouble arises.

Another part of me is thinking it must have something to do with blended languages or something, though. I just can’t wrap my mind around a society that simply has no term for “wrong.” How different would our culture have to be if we never made or used such words?

Maybe we would have been better without some of them. I can think of a few words now that I would like to trim out of our collective use: money, schedule… What do you think?

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