Words are important.
They not only communicate what we are trying to say, they can also communicate things that we are not trying to say. Word choice can be incredibly tricky, especially when surrounded by people that we don't know so well.
This week, I was in a meeting with a group I'm involved in on campus. We were talking about sexual assault. Not exactly an easy topic to discuss. During this discussion, one of my friends brought up the idea of taking precautions. Not walking alone in the wee hours of the night, not going to private places with people you don't know. All of these things are good and important. Then, he said this:
"because I would never put myself in that situation."
I wanted to leap across the table. Then, I put on my rational pants, took a breath, and thought about the situation. I know this guy. We are friends. I know that what he just said is not exactly what he meant. He would never say that someone who ended up in that situation was at fault. He would never say that someone who was drinking heavily and got raped had "put themselves in that situation."
So, instead of ripping his head off or yelling at him, I calmly - and as lovingly as possible - said that maybe those weren't the best words to use. I pointed out to him that saying that sounds like victim blaming. He immediately apologized and said that that is not at all what he was trying to say.
Speaking is easy. We've been doing it longer than our memories serve. It's saying what you mean that is the hard part. I hear (and contribute to) a lot of talk about how ridiculous it is that we have to be so politically correct these days. Is it really that ridiculous, though? I heard someone say this once, on a podcast from The Liturgists:
"I couldn't care less about 'politically correct', but I couldn't care more about using language for people that honors their dignity as human beings. So, if people don't like the term 'politically correct', that's fine with me. Drop the term all you want, but have the decency to use language that preserves human dignity...Do we care enough about people to use language that honors them and their experiences? Are we mature enough to honor the language that people use for themselves?"
- Science Mike
This is why it is so important to choose our words carefully. It isn't just about being politically correct or saying the "right thing". It's about loving people. Loving those around us, and also loving those who can't hear what we are saying. I try my best to use the same language both when my black brothers and sisters are around and when they are not. If I wouldn't find a joke funny with a certain demographic present, then it probably isn't funny at all.
I want to do my best to live a life that honors God's creation. I think that using my words to honor other humans is a big part of that. I want to honor their stories and experiences that I am unaware of. I want to honor their stories and experiences that I am aware of.
Love. Honor. Dignity. All humans deserve these things. Let's go out and spread it.