Language That Divides & Language That Unites

I have been thinking recently of unity and division, about how to create unity and minimise division.  How can we encourage inclusion within our communities?   Sometimes the small changes can make the biggest difference.  What can we model to others to encourage inclusion?   I was reminded of an article I read some time ago that challenges us to examine the language we use and to understand the effect it has on both those we support and the wider community.

The article was on and I want to share it with you all.  It has made me think again of the words I use and understand how helpful it is to model good language.  It can change or reinforce people’s mindset or perception of others.   Different sectors of the community all have their “special language” but we don’t need to fall into the habit of using it in everyday life.  We have come a long way as a society with our use of divisive language but there is still a way to go.  Excerpts of the post are as follows: –

“The reality is that special language will always communicate differentness and separation.   The language of acceptance can only be found in the daily experience of friends, family, home and work.  The test for a language of acceptance is the presence of words in our own relationships with our friends and family. None of us would ever call a family member a client, a resident, a consumer or folk.  We don’t return to our group home, our program or our facility.  You and I go to work in the morning.  Why must we talk of some people going to their workshop, their day program, their supported work placement or the day respite centre? As friends, family, neighbours and professionals we have a choice. Would any of us ever say: “Hello my name is John, I’m a client in a Community Living Arrangement for the disabled. I was discharged from the State Centre and I now go to a sheltered workshop during the day.” Or would we simply say: “My name is John Wilson. My home is on Second Street in Camp Hill and I work at General Electric.”

Our language is a powerful influence on how we perceive each other, directly leading to degrees of acceptance and rejection. Gordon Alport, in “The Nature of Prejudice” observes that language is always the first step in the process of separating an individual or group from the larger society.  The use of words that identify a person or group as being different creates a focus on that difference.  It defines the difference and communicates that difference to increasing numbers of other people.  This is an insidious process, for verbal disenfranchisement deepens attitudes, creates consensus on the fundamental nature of the differentness and leads to active forms of discrimination, separation and ultimately victimisation.  I have discovered that confronting my language forces a struggle with basic values and attitudes.  It is not easy and it is not simple.  This is not an issue of a list of approved and non-approved words.  It is about the roles, perceptions and expectations that exist among and between persons that are currently experiencing disabling conditions and those that are not.  Our language is a public window on our deepest feelings about those attitudes.  I invite each of you to join in this very challenging and worthwhile struggle.”

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