Words matter. Actions matter too, don’t forget. But, words can be harbingers of actions. They are certainly bellwethers of the inner mind. Words belie deep secrets. Words are the ultimate tells.
Most imperative, however, words are not static. Their meaning, their usage, their connotations fluctuate. The transmutation of meaning can feel imperceptible for people, like the growth of hair. But, other times, the change of connotation can be seismic and quick. The transformed meaning feels shocking.
So, words share meaning, and the meaning is constantly changing. How can you handle this? Go with the flow won’t work here. You need to be proactive to understand and incorporate new meanings into your language.
There are many words that can make others feel bad. These are often the words that connect to how people self-identify. These are also often the words that you feel are most fundamentally unchangeable.
What are some words that can cause others to feel bad?
- Gender Pronouns (She/ He)
- Words that use one group to stand in for a larger group (Mankind for Humanity)
- Words that define an ethnicity or culture (Native America, First Peoples, Aboriginal, and/or Indian).
- Words defining relationships between people (Wife or Partner)
How can I do better?
So, what should you do? Focus on words and usage. This is not to say meaning. We have all used words to hurt people. Instead, center your thinking on when intention is different than perception.
- Start by thinking about the times when your words didn’t connect with the listeners.
- Think about moments when you have felt you hurt people.
- Also, consider when you have felt strongly about when people’s word usage has hurt you.
- Make it your responsibility to learn about why certain words are not being received as you imagine.
- Do not ask others to be responsible for your education.
- There plenty of wonderful resources online to help you start your education.
- Once you understand the ways that words feel to others, make your informed decision on your usage choices.
- You might find your feelings mean that you will change your usage. You might instead feel strongly about maintaining your usage as it is. If you choose the latter, be prepared to affect people.
- For those words that you change, put them into usage.
- You will make mistakes.
- Listen to how people react.
- Reflect on those reactions.
- Learn from those reactions.
- Try Again
- Amend your approach based.
- Employ your new approach in language.
For more, a longer and more emotional conversation about language read my thoughts here.