Posts Tagged ‘Language’

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.

I spent some time at a bookstore Saturday. That is rare for me in this age of ordering from Amazon, but I needed to peruse possible purchases this time. I was looking for a pocket-size Mandarin Chinese phrase book/dictionary in preparation for my trip to China. After taking time to look through the three available, I decided to buy them all. I started my way through one last night.

Even though our small touring group will have an interpreter with us at all times in China, I want to do the kind thing and at least learn enough basic words and phrases to show respect and concern for those I encounter there. It will go a long way toward breaking down barriers. After all, how can I really get to know someone if I can’t speak their language? Of course, I won’t learn Chinese in a week, but others will know I’m trying and that should mean something.

You and I make choices daily about how we communicate with others. It usually isn’t about such a stark contrast as English versus Chinese. The impact, however, can still be great.

For example, if I am a leader in a business or organization, I need to speak in terms that others clearly understand. If I have the opportunity to speak in public to a group, I need to know my audience and use language appropriate to the hearers. The point of speaking is not to hear me speak, but to communicate effectively with others.

I remember way back as a freshman in college at the University of Kentucky. The student paper one day had an article that had everyone buzzing because every other word in it was a word that nobody understood. Someone had gone to the trouble of leaning heavily on a thesaurus to create this long-winded opinion piece that apparently tried to impress but, instead, made the author look foolish. It failed to successfully communicate at all.

A former manager of mine is fond of the saying “eschew obfuscation” which, of course, violates it’s own advice.

Be considerate of others when communicating. Speak their language. Follow leap year lesson #97 – Work at communicating clearly.