Words can break a long silence but they can also create one. Words go down deep into a person’s soul. Words can comfort or humiliate us, make us laugh or cry, find us peace or incite violence. Words have created fights, divorces, murders and wars. Words that we use can be uplifting or detrimental. Fortunately or unfortunately, too often we measure ourselves by what others say to us or about us. There are many whose self worth has been destroyed by verbal abuse which makes them feel helpless and hopeless with inner struggle. The words we use at home, school, college or office to describe someone can leave an everlasting impact on the listener.
When there is literally a whole dictionary of words that are less offensive and more accurate, we still stick to words like, ‘Crazy! Gay! Retard! Rape! Dumb’ in inappropriate places to convey our feelings. ‘Crazy’ is a loaded word among those suffering from mental health issues. Parents of mentally-ill children take offense when they hear comments like, “I’m going crazy” or “This is driving me nuts.” They find it offensive when they hear the ubiquitous word ‘retarded’ to describe boneheaded or narrow-minded behaviours or attitudes. It might sound usual to use words like ‘crazy’ or ‘retarded’ but mind you, it’s the listener that goes through pain, unable to convey it outside.
Rape is a visceral and potent word; using it carelessly diminishes it. Phrases like, “That totally raped my bank balance” or “Chicago Bulls court-raped Miami Heat,” don’t condone rape but they sure contribute to rape culture. I’d read something by a feminist columnist on the internet which made so much sense and I quote, “You start throwing it around like it doesn’t mean anything and sooner rather than later, it won’t. So stop throwing it around.” The word ‘gay’ although means happiness, it is also used to describe someone’s identity. When we casually throw away the word to describe something that is weird or atrocious, on a deeper note we are in fact, not accepting homosexuality.
John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympian with Down Syndrome asks, “So, what’s wrong with ‘retard’? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be, we are something outside the “in” group. We are someone that is not your kind.” Sadly, this is not an unusual thing but we frequently use such phrases intentionally or unintentionally. I admit that I have let these words slip into my conversations as it has become a common trend. Only when I stopped and recognized this, did I realize the impact it creates. The fact that such phrases are put up as status updates or emblazoned on T-shirts makes me wonder where we are heading.
We need to understand that society’s acceptance of these casual definitions diminish or devaluate the actual meaning and usage of the word. The fact is, virtually everyone has a topic or issue that they are sensitive to. Is it ever possible to completely avoid offending everyone that we meet? Perhaps, not. Yet, we still have the choice to try and take an effort to not offend people. If you think about it, most of the comments mentioned above have always been used as a negative connotation. Well, I believe, it is possible to reach out in a positive and a less offensive manner. All you need to do is, recognize the particular word that creates a derogatory impact, try and avoid it. And in turn, identify alternate words which probably will help you expand your vocabulary.
Nothing would make more sense than what is stated by Reece Gardner in her article ‘Words can hurt or heal, harm or help.’ Motivational speaker Rebecca Morgan, points out that we have a choice everyday to use our words to cut or to heal. Every time we speak we have a choice, either to make others feel great or horrible. With that power comes the responsibility and obligation to use it wisely. Words not only affect us temporarily, they can actually change us. Do you remember when someone’s words hurt you? Perhaps you were called ‘dumb’, ‘stupid’, ‘four eyes’ or ‘ugly. How about when someone’s words made you feel great, such as, ‘you’re wonderful’, ‘great job’, or ‘I love you’?”
Originally posted on helpost.