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OnWords: Function


The word “function” is applied to people in a variety of ways.

Job descriptions detail basic functions of the position, and mental health professionals declare people high- or low-functioning.

If my goal is to be a “functioning” student, employees, husband or son, my value as a human being is tied up with what I’m doing. That “doing” is generally for the benefit of some social institution or for the sake of someone else’s bottom line.

You can imagine what it might feel like if, through disability or happenstance, one is no longer “functional” in one area or another.

Rates of depression go up when levels of functioning go down. Modern scientists see this as one of mysteries of mental disease.

However, if you look at the linguistics, it makes sense.

We’d rather be happy than be functional, but in this culture, happiness is deeply tied to functionality.

Two centuries ago, Immanuel Kant warned us that we should treat people as ends, and never as means, and using “functional” to describe people is means-based treatment by definition.

If nothing else, applying the word “functional” to people shows us how our schools and businesses, and our ideal families and communities, have taken precedent over the very people they are designed to serve.