building new castles every day

Don’t be lazy, exercise your vocabulary!

In Thinkings on March 6, 2013 at 7:08 AM

Screen shot 2013-03-06 at 7.02.15 AM

There are so many compelling and powerful words in our English language.

So many options to describe what upsets us, what scares us, what makes us uncomfortable, what puts us in a foul mood.

Feelings are important. As a species, we put great value on conveying our emotions. Just look around at every communication channel in your world – be it cable TV, Facebook or your spiral-bound notebook – and there is an emotional story being told.

But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that when we describe our feelings about something, that something is suddenly personified. Our sentiments about a thing do not make that thing us. A thing is an object and is separate from our feelings.

Just because your morning workout made you feel pain doesn’t mean it ‘raped’ you. A workout is not a human. It is not capable of such a horrific action. So why use a horrific feeling to describe something that is not horrific?

Let’s also not fool ourselves into thinking that our feelings are caused by something or someone other than ourselves.

A thing does not make you feel. You make yourself feel!

Just because you struggled to find a parking spot in time for the movie to start, doesn’t make the parking lot or the movie theatre slow. A parking lot is not a person! This thing did not make you slow. Rather, you are the person and you made yourself slow. So why turn to your friends and say, “That parking lot is retarded!” when really you mean to say, “I am delayed and feeling frustrated!”

Even then, is ‘retarded’ or ‘rape’ really the most appropriate words we can use? Our feelings of not being punctual, or our feelings of defeat, are indeed important feelings to express.

But must we limit ourselves to single words that not only misrepresent our sentiments but which carry with them histories of phobia and struggle?

Perhaps we’re defaulting to laziness rather than exercising our extensive vocabulary.

These thoughts build on Ash Beckham’s Ignite Boulder presentation, “Eliminating the word ‘gay’ as a pejorative from our lexicon” (see below).

In her five-minute video, Ash challenges us to reflect on our use of the word ‘gay’ as a derogatory or abusive way to describe our feelings.

And she challenges us to say something.

We have more influence than we give ourselves credit for. It speaks volumes in our society that we’re more comfortable seeing a picture of two men holding guns than two men holding hands. And the way that we right that is to make sure that the words that we use to describe the latter are never used in a way that is less than or demeaning or inferior to.

Now I’m not perfect. I can’t say I challenge every person (every friend) that I hear use the word ‘gay’ pejoratively.

But as Ash was inspired to talk to 850 people at an Ignite talk, I am inspired to write to my online network of readers, Twitter followers and Facebook friends to get the conversation started.

And I can’t think of a better group of folks to make change happen – to exercise our extensive vocabulary – than the people in my online network.

For the sake of your own feelings, and the feelings of others, choose your words mindfully. Sticks and stones do break bones, but words can save us.

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