The way you talk about something frames what you see and how you react. Your choice of words is often a signal of your attitude toward to person, situation or topic. Several therapy modes derive their efficacy from helping people to shift the language they use to talk about themselves, their feelings and their lives. How we refer to something also creates expectations — social justice movements reclaiming pejorative words, the effect of grouping people into categories as in Jane Elliot’s “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” exercise and the self-fulfilling prophecy inherent in the nocebo effect are all examples of the how the way something is described can impact our beliefs and our behavior.
There is power in the words we use; labels direct our attention to certain characteristics or aspects of the people and circumstances we encounter. While calling something or someone by a particular name may not make it so, it does influence how this thing or person is perceived and that perception can come to be seen as the truth. Furthermore, euphemisms can facilitate avoiding the acknowledgement of hard truths about the reality we are living.
As we struggle to come to grips with multiple tragedies across the globe, we may wonder, can our words really make a difference? I want to embolden you to try to answer that question in the affirmative with a small thought experiment:
What if “small arms” were what children use when they hug someone?
What if being “well armed” meant you were set up for hugging at any time?
What if “arms dealers” were offering more and better hugging options?
What if the phrase “bear arms” applied only to teddy bears, etc.?
Perhaps these examples seem trivial or silly, however, doesn’t it strike you that people whose heads are filled with thoughts of children, people hugging and cuddly toys are less likely to be promulgating hate, dismissing dialog and collaboration, or using deadly force? If so, join me in a small act of reappropriation with #ArmsR4Hugging.
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.