Leap Year Lesson #109: Words Have Meaning, So Choose Them Wisely

Posted: April 19, 2012 in Communication
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I did not expect to have two posts within three days on the subject of being offended, but since the most thought-provoking incident of the day today was related to the subject, I thought I’d better tackle it again from a different angle.

My leap year lesson #107 was “Before taking offense, have an adult conversation.”  The point was to rationally discuss a matter to be sure you understand what you are taking offense at prior to reacting emotionally.

Today’s experience has more to do with language – its meaning and implications.  The situation involves a political online forum post where the writer referred to a political figure she obviously did not like as one of “Jerry’s kids.”  The reference is to children assisted by the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon.  The term has also been used in a derogatory manner to refer to someone with one of any number of disabilities.  Immediately, several condemned the reference as inappropriate and insensitive.

It would have been nice if participants took a little more time in this situation to follow the advice of the post two days ago, but once tempers flare you have to deal with the situation at hand.

The issue may be one of language as much as it is of appropriateness or sensitivity.  Someone raised in the culture of the 1950’s or ’60’s or ’70’s was raised during a time when certain words now quite offensive to many were not considered offensive at the time.  Put yourself in that person’s shoes for a minute and try to understand that the world and culture and language around them has shifted over time.  Meanwhile, they still have in their vocabulary words and meanings as they grew up using them.  That isn’t to say they should keep using them.  On the contrary, they should be educated and held accountable to change their public vocabulary as needed.

Words have meaning.  Sometimes those words hurt deeply.  We have a responsibility to show genuine compassion for others by being aware of the words we use, avoiding those from many years ago that are now deemed offensive by many.

Leap year lesson #109 is Words have meaning, so choose them wisely.

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