Many years ago I took a course about being more sensitive to different cultures, religions and races. At the time I was pretty young, and I thought my open mindedness and love for things and people that were different was going to carry over to everyone around me and we were all going to make the world a better place. I really haven't given up on that ideology, I believe that we can all make a difference in our world, but I have lost some of my naive outlook on life, and realized that I cannot make everyone see other sides of the stories.
During that course the instructor put one thought in my head that I would like to pass on to you today, and I hope that at least one other person will have a little change on their perspective today. And it is simple....WORDS ARE POWERFUL, AND SO IS THE LACK OF WORDS. In that course when talking about race, the instructor said to think about the word black and we had to make some lists of things that you thought of when you heard the word, black. The list contained things like blacklist, blackball, black sheep, black panthers, etc. And the majority of things listed had some type of negative connotation. At the time different groups were asking that the term African American or African Canadian should be used, instead of referring to people as being black. And I have to admit, until I heard and thought about why the change should be made, I didn't think it made that much of a difference. But if someone is telling you that they find something offensive, or oppressive, what is the harm in using different words?
Last year I learned another new change. Instead of saying there was a drunk driving accident, we should be saying there was a drunk driving incident, because guess what? It wasn't an accident, because it was preventable. See how our language can change our perspective?
Yes, I know, many will argue that we have become a society that is becoming too politically correct. But if being aware of our words so they don't harm people makes life a bit better...than why not? And sometimes, people just not saying anything can be just as harmful, such as with bullying, or when someone is sick or dying. So many people have said to me over the years that, "I don't know what to say," so they just say nothing. But most often, the person who is sick or dying takes it as a sign that the person just does not care. Say something! Say anything! I met a man this past weekend who's son died 30 years ago, and he still carries the pain of how his friends and family avoided him, just because he was in so much pain. In that situation, he said if they had just sat in the same room and said anything, it would have been better then being avoided.
The new idea that was put into my head this past weekend was around the words we use with suicide. In the papers, and among friends, many will say, "he/she committed suicide". And while that is the term that has been the normal term for as long as I can remember....it is time to change it. People who are committed, are usually having mental issues, people who commit crimes, are well, criminals. So let's take committed suicide and make it, "he/she died of or from suicide." No one wants to be committed to acting on suicide. And when they do die by suicide, their families do not want to think of them as a "bad person", because it just is so often not the case. Suicide, in 2010 took more lives in Alberta than motor vehicle accidents. Think about that....we see the accidents in the paper and talk about them all the time as tragic deaths. But how often do we talk and hear about tragic suicides? Not enough in my opinion any more. People who are thinking about dying by suicide need us to talk, and when they do die by suicide, their families will then need us to talk as well. I hope this will start some of those conversations.