That which I am about to talk about is something that is very flexible. It means freedom, restriction, communication, ideas and expresses this and more. It can open doors and destroy relationships. Its excess can either be a meticulous maze or provide intricate detail.
Alright, enough, the suspense is killing me. I am referring to words. Even as most of our communication with one another in face-to-face interactions is body language, the words we use are also a vehicle for communication. Wait. Did you just notice how I used the word vehicle? How many automatically thought of a car transporting words or a word driving the car? Maybe you did, but maybe you did not. This is what I wish to bring to your attention. As my *cough cough* suspenseful introduction states, words are diverse. Remember how in grade school the teacher would assign homework in which the definitions of about 30 words would have to be written down, and as you were doing them, you would get to that one word that had about 50 million different definitions?
Haven’t had the privilege of coming across a word with more than three definitions? Try looking up the word “use” or “love”.
Now that we are all on the same page, one may be wondering where I am trying to get at. After recently having read Fidelity to Text and Principle by Jack M. Balkin, (here is a pdf of part of the text: BalkinJack_M._Balkin_Vanderbilt_Paper_7-2007) he talks about the interpretation of words, which he makes a distinction between two different kinds, “interpretation-as-ascertainment and interpretation-as-construction” (Balkin 5). This is where knowing the definitions of words becomes crucial as it assists in the interpretation, specifically to important documents, such as the Constitution, for example. Interpreting the Constitution, easy peasy right? Well, not so much. How to interpret the Constitution is something that is always debated. Placing to extreme groups, there is one side that adheres to the “letter of the law” where as the opposite site promotes the “spirit of the law”. Of course, there are those who fall somewhere in between, but the question is, what way is it supposed to be interpreted.
For example, Balkin brings to light how the regardless of the model chosen for interpretation, it may fall short. The context in which the Constitution was written greatly differs from the context that is now presented in 2015. I propose not claiming to one method and employing both to arrive to the best outcome. I believe in preserving what it means to be American by being open to change and welcoming a transformation that allows America to remain all that it stands for. It would have been impossible for our founding fathers to anticipate all that would come years after them. It was left in our hands to take the model they provided us with and implement it.
Let’s now take it back a few years back, to that of the time of our founding fathers. Would they tell us to maintain the “letter of the law” or the “spirit of the law”?