We often hear that our thoughts create our reality. Since words convey our thoughts, both internally and as we speak, it follows that words create our reality too. When we pay attention to words and make course corrections, we change the lens through which we view the world. And when we change the lens, we open doors to social change.
I have been thinking about this today because of Randy Earle’s comment on my post about Helpers of the Handicapped in India. I confessed I was struggling with language around disabilities. So he sent me a link to his thought-provoking post, “Warning: Language Detour Ahead.”
Randy was diagnosed with adrenomyeloneuropathy 17 years ago. As the condition has progressed, he has become an expert on the barriers we erect to full mobility. He has also become attuned to our casual use of language that isolates and marginalizes. Here is a sample:
I have had scores of debates with well-meaning people about language. I have received thinly-disguised skeptical looks when I note language that I find offensive because it marginalizes me. Some are obvious put downs: “That’s lame!” Whatever object that phrase modifies is understood as substandard, “a lame excuse” or “a lame move.” Other awkward phrases have spawned cartoons in my community of advocates: picture the ropes needed for “the wheel-chair bound.” Yeah, that’s not me. No tying me down. And, please, don’t get me started on “crippling snow storms.”
Guilty as charged. Thanks for tuning my antennae, Randy. I already struggled with finding the right descriptors for some of the people whose stories I have shared in posts such as these: Photographer’s mistake creates opportunity, Underwater wheelchair ballet and Blind, not disabled. Randy reminds me the issue of appropriate language goes far beyond any particular person or condition and seeps into our everyday conversation.
But language is fluid, not fixed. As we become aware of the impact of our words, we can use different ones or use them differently.
When I was growing up in Twin Falls, Idaho, we thought nothing of calling filberts “nigger toes” or of accusing someone of being an “Indian giver.” Women were supposed to be satisfied with being invisible when masculine pronouns were used to mean everyone. And don’t even get me started on all the casual racist, sexist and homophobic language strewn through the conversational landscape.
Things have improved a lot in my lifetime, and they will continue to change as we confront those who casually dismiss or injure us through their use of language. I have a lot to learn, but Randy Earle gives me hope that teachers will keep appearing in my path.