Just like Eliza Doolittle I am sick of words—sick of how people misuse them to prove a political point—and how something simple can get blown out of proportion because of word choice.
When I taught, I often put my hand on a student’s shoulder and then described the action with different verbs. Did I slap the shoulder, punch the shoulder, hit the shoulder, tap the shoulder, touch the shoulder? If the verb used was hit, could the hit on the shoulder explode into a punch, or was the shoulder pummeled or beaten up? How, I asked my students, could the incident be recounted at home over the dinner table?
In school you might have learned about the Boston Massacre and had visions of bodies of “innocent” colonists covering the ground. Did they mention that only five men died?
If you ever heard about the Battle of Wounded Knee, did anyone tell you that on that early morning in 1890 when most of the Lakota men had been disarmed, Army forces killed perhaps as many as 300 Lakota—200 of whom were women and children. In the history books, it is a battle that the Native Americans lost.
Which of these events was a massacre?
In this time of frustration in our society, we need to think carefully about the words we write, post, repost, or tweet, and the connotation of those words. Is the word or phrase emotionally charged? For example, should what is happening in cities and towns across the country be called riots or protests? Which is the best description of the events we are experiencing? I will not deny, I cannot deny, that there has been looting and violence, but that does not seem to be the bulk of what is happening. Are there thugs and lowlifes among the protestors? Well, are there thugs and lowlifes serving in government jobs?
Why am I up on my soapbox? I am giving serious consideration to defriending someone I like on Facebook because of words. Because the posts, she chooses to post or repost are filled with words and phrases which intentionally or accidentally are designed to inflame rather soothe. And words matter.
I am not perfect. There were times in my classroom when I made a flip comment and chose words that were not appropriate. I can apologize, but I spoke as the teacher, and the damage was done. The relationship with a student and a family was stressed, strained, and perhaps severed forever. I have no defense for my misuse of words. I can only hope that if I were in a crisis situation, I would be more careful, more cautious, more thoughtful about my word choice. In truth I have done that as I have written this.
No two people see the world in the exact same way. Accept that your view of the world might not be the experience of another person or another group. We need to stop assuming that if we are right that those who disagree are wrong. Maybe instead of spewing so many words, more of us need to listen—really listen and hear what is being said.
And think about the words we use, because words matter.