You Shouldn’t Say That

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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11 January 2020 22:53
 

I’ve been trying to raise my own consciousness and be more aware how lazy speech affects other people. It occurs, and has been pointed out to me that a great many common turns of phrase are pretty detrimental to the project of greater understanding and empathy. Specifically the use of terms that describe real and often debilitating conditions as a metaphor for something far more trivial. In effect minimizing the total perception of consequence.

There are a whole host of phrases about real mental illnesses like ‘that’s just my ocd talking’. We could add common sayings that have demonstrably racist and sexist origins.

I’m happy to trade examples and discuss how people feel in general but what I’m especially interested in is whether people have examples that affect them personally. Specifically something that you struggle like an injury or condition or traumatic event that is minimized and trivialized by casual language. Mostly so I can get better at not doing that.

Recently I was gently corrected about making glib reference to the AIDS virus. Someone close to me had lost a family member to this disease. I was harping on it for a cheap laugh in a break room. Running with this example it occurred to me that that there are countless examples of thoughtless language that harms others.

And just to inoculate the thread a bit, I don’t endorse language policing or anything like that. I’m not here to judge people for their choice of words. I’m just trying to advocate for compassion and to improve personally. Thanks.

 
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12 January 2020 07:00
 

That’s mighty human of of you, BB.  In my experience, casually insulting phrases are meant to divide and distinguish from what the larger population considers normal by the standards of the larger population.  People usually want to fit in with the general population so as not to be a target of division and the social ostracism which usually accompanies it, but usually this proves difficult to impossible due to immutable or innate characteristics.

What has helped me remove such phrases you mention is to ask myself if the phrase is meant to bring someone closer to me or push someone away.

 
burt
 
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burt
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12 January 2020 09:45
 

An example, late 70s talking a a friend named John and excusing myself for a moment because “I have to go to the John.” Whoops.

 
Jefe
 
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Jefe
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12 January 2020 11:08
 
Brick Bungalow - 11 January 2020 10:53 PM

I don’t endorse language policing or anything like that.

I police language in those I interact with, and myself.
My sister, through no fault of her own, is a special needs person - (not downs syndrome).

I have no friends and spend no time with people who use the ‘tard descriptor as an epithet, or use the “Ding, fries are done” song as attempts at humor.  I also do not spend time with people who mock or make fun of the special olympics.  I used to let these things roll off my back, and not comment upon them, until one time someone used the phrase “you retard” when my sister was in the house.  It made her cry, and instantly not like the person in question. 

From that moment on I realized the potential for careless word use to hurt people who were already struggling and at disadvantage in the world, and both vowed not to use those phrases myself, and to be aware of and intentional in all my words and phrase usages. And to distance myself from people who didn’t have the self-control to watch their tongues around my sister.

I don’t know a ton of special need folks, but those I do know do not deserve the emotional pain of people casually using them as metaphors.  And I do know that functioning adults are fully capable of choosing other phrases to communicate their point with. All it takes is a little thoughtfulness and empathy.

 
 
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12 January 2020 15:47
 
burt - 12 January 2020 09:45 AM

An example, late 70s talking a a friend named John and excusing myself for a moment because “I have to go to the John.” Whoops.

When I was in grade school my friends and I played “Smear The Queer”, which meant that whoever had the football was the “queer” and was to be tackled.  We didn’t play it for long because no one wanted to get smeared, but the name stuck because of the rhyme and the lunacy of anyone wanting to pick up the ball and try to outrun five to ten other guys.  The phrase became a metaphor for me when I wanted to describe an unfortunate person who became a target, but I learned the phrase before making the connection of “queer” with “gay”, or before I really knew what homosexuality was and the very real violence done to homosexuals.  Twenty years passed and I was having lunch with a new client and I tossed out the phrase in a jovial and innocent manner, and unintentionally insulted the client, but he did not immediately say so, although a chill fell over an otherwise enjoyable lunch.  Later that same day in a separate conversation with the client over the phone, he told me he was gay and was hurt by the casual use of the phrase, and that was when I finally made the connection.  I immediately apologized and explained just as above, made amends by sending him gay porn, it was the last time I used the phrase, and we are still friends 20 years later.

Since then, I have been examining my vocabulary for such hurtful words and remove them from circulation.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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12 January 2020 16:11
 
Jefe - 12 January 2020 11:08 AM
Brick Bungalow - 11 January 2020 10:53 PM

I don’t endorse language policing or anything like that.

I police language in those I interact with, and myself.
My sister, through no fault of her own, is a special needs person - (not downs syndrome).

I have no friends and spend no time with people who use the ‘tard descriptor as an epithet, or use the “Ding, fries are done” song as attempts at humor.  I also do not spend time with people who mock or make fun of the special olympics.  I used to let these things roll off my back, and not comment upon them, until one time someone used the phrase “you retard” when my sister was in the house.  It made her cry, and instantly not like the person in question. 

From that moment on I realized the potential for careless word use to hurt people who were already struggling and at disadvantage in the world, and both vowed not to use those phrases myself, and to be aware of and intentional in all my words and phrase usages. And to distance myself from people who didn’t have the self-control to watch their tongues around my sister.

I don’t know a ton of special need folks, but those I do know do not deserve the emotional pain of people casually using them as metaphors.  And I do know that functioning adults are fully capable of choosing other phrases to communicate their point with. All it takes is a little thoughtfulness and empathy.

Thank you. Our family business caters to special needs kids and I’ve recently had the opportunity to become more educated on the topic. And hopefully less abrasive.

I notice that once you broach this issue the examples quickly become countless. Developmental special needs and Native American issues stand out for me as especially egregious right now. In the sense that they are big blind spots for many people who seem to make an effort in general not to be offensive. I’m certain there are many others.

 
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12 January 2020 17:28
 

My wife does get a laugh, though, when I refer to her as matrimonially challenged.

 
Cheshire Cat
 
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13 January 2020 11:06
 

In Buddhism, one of the Five Precepts for ethical conduct is called Right Speech.

This is: “abstinence from false speech, abstinence from malicious speech, abstinence from harsh speech, and abstinence from idle chatter.”

I would imagine that there are people who would claim this to be “politically correct” speech. Why not say exactly what you mean and call a “spade a spade”? (There’s a possibly offensive phrase in itself.)

So where is the line between politically correct speech and limiting one’s own speech in a way that will not hurt others?

 
 
burt
 
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13 January 2020 15:05
 
Cheshire Cat - 13 January 2020 11:06 AM

In Buddhism, one of the Five Precepts for ethical conduct is called Right Speech.

This is: “abstinence from false speech, abstinence from malicious speech, abstinence from harsh speech, and abstinence from idle chatter.”

I would imagine that there are people who would claim this to be “politically correct” speech. Why not say exactly what you mean and call a “spade a spade”? (There’s a possibly offensive phrase in itself.)

So where is the line between politically correct speech and limiting one’s own speech in a way that will not hurt others?

The term “politically correct” has been coopted. Limiting ones speech so as to avoid hurting others is being polite, or decent. Being politically correct, in the only proper understanding of the term, means that one has informed oneself on the issues and formed an opinion that one is willing to defend in open debate, calling spades spades when required.