Friday, June 29, 2012

Civil Discourse

This is a post for my local autism advocacy group in Abilene, TX: REACH for a difference.

Words are powerful tools. As with any tool, they are not inherently good or bad. It all depends on how they are used. Any particular phrase can be used to help or to harm. I have watched a word or phrase that was meant to be helpful or neutral become an insult more than once in my lifetime. It seems like the average 8 year old can turn any word of phrase into an insult with just a little verbal twist and flick.
So when I see people drawing lines and taking sides over words, I tend to sigh to myself and shake my head sadly. As a writer I know just how powerful words can be. On the other hand, as on observer of the human condition, I know just how quickly meanings can change. There is no such thing as a safe word that is inherently good and respectful and there is no such thing as a word that is inherently bad or disrespectful. If you don't believe me, look at how easily and playfully the black community uses the word nigger among themselves. The problem is not the word, but with who uses it and how.
I urge you to think about this before you draw a line in the sand about a particular word or phrase. The important thing is how you treat a person. Words are only a tool in doing so.

John Mark McDonald

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