Words are important. The words we choose have an impact each and every time we speak. What we say and how we say it matters more today than I have ever witnessed in my life time. Considerate action, along with respectful language has become a major priority in today’s world.
As I ponder this question, I reflect on my own journey. As a parent of a child who had both intellectual and physical disabilities, I quickly gained an understanding about the importance of language. I spoke about ability rather than disability. I was involved in community initiatives that promoted citizenship for all people, regardless of race, gender, culture, sexual identity, age, ability and so on. I had participated in activities and campaigns which helped to raise awareness and guide others to recognize that everyone has value and a contribution to make. So many people who have been moved to take action, whether it be through a personal or professional experience, have done the same.
Despite these efforts, not all people are at the level of understanding. To this day, we still hear phrases like, “That’s so gay” and “Isn’t that retarded”. These words, chosen to describe something one doesn’t agree with or a situation gone amuck, may not intend to elicit harm, however, they are offensive. Throughout history, different groups of people have been at risk of being subjected to multiple discrimination due to the interplay of different personal characteristics and because of that, they have been marginalized, ridiculed, or excluded. This gives all the more reason to speak in a manner that reflects respect rather than contempt.
Yet, we are starting to see change.
This came to light with the recent discussion around who will be hosting the Oscars. Because of a past history of making homophobic jokes, Kevin Hart, the chosen host, was receiving a lot of criticism and negative publicity. He decided to step down. In turn, advocacy groups disagreed with his decision, citing that he gave up an opportunity to speak to the situation in front of millions of viewers, and apologize and educate.
Awareness, education and evolution. Through these activities, we move forward. And we don’t look back.
We embrace our vulnerability by telling the story. By exposing the truth, we have an opportunity to change the world.
With the “Me Too” movement, we have seen more and more people finding the inner strength to stand up for their safety, their rights, fairness and equity. As we experience, we learn. When we learn, we evolve. As we evolve, we grow and advance, as a species and as a society and here lies the answer to my earlier question, “what’s changed?”
The next set of questions….
How do we communicate more respectfully?
How do we speak so that everyone feels valued and respected?
How do we ensure that everyone has a chance to live safely, fairly and confidently?
Be open to change, for with change, we become better.