Language is never neutral. I’m not talking about choosing our words to be “politically correct,” but to become more aware of what we are communicating – intentionally and unintentionally. This debate over language isn’t arbitrary or frivolous. One group has had the power to name things, has had the power for so long that we are blind to the biases and put downs associated with so many “common” words. The greatest sign of respect is to call people what they want to be called.
To make it simple: ask the people you are involved with what they prefer to be called. Not in a manner that puts them under a microscope or asks them to speak for their group such as: “What do “you all” want to be called?” (“Well, all twelve million of us have taken a vote and…”) Instead, ask people as individuals what they prefer and be ready to share your preferences as well. This means we need to make connections; this means we need to talk to each other.
Instead of feeling put out by the need to consider language, we could rejoice in the fact that we’re finally becoming a multi-voiced nation. People are beginning to name themselves and no one group of anything wants to be called any one thing.
Language is a living, breathing, ever changing art form. We could take the attitude that it’s interesting and even fun to play with words so that our descriptions are more clear, more accurate and more sensitive. We could take the time to learn other people’s preferences not to be “right” but because we care not to hurt each other. When we choose different words we help people see a different reality. A different shared reality is the foundation upon which we can build a transformed society that works for everyone.