• Ilan Cooley

our words matter

Updated: Sep 10

"The world will continue to change. Language will continue to change. What is acceptable in society will continue to change. How things are now is just a speck of time in the grand scheme of human existence. If you are not willing to reflect about why you don’t want to create or embrace change, you simply won’t."


Our words and how we use them matters.

There are fundamental things I feel we should all be able to agree on, but I see so many examples to the contrary it makes me worry about people and the world. I am a humanist, therefore I believe everyone, and I mean everyone, should have the same rights, freedoms, and protections. I have come to understand not everyone feels this way, so it means humanity is not universal and there is work to do.

I believe treating people with respect, having empathy and compassion towards others, believing in and contributing to a greater good, removing physical and invisible barriers, and equality for all, are some of the essential elements for creating an inclusive world. The shift to accomplishing this is not difficult, but it requires the ability to change and adapt.

I recently read a post by someone who stated it was too much work to keep adapting to the renaming of things, or the use of inclusive language. The very notion of this seemed strange to me, because we have limitless capacity to learn. Naming things is literally one of our first cognitive advancements, and we have the ability to keep growing both our vocabulary, and our perspectives throughout our lives. The very nature of language is that it is a constantly evolving and reshaping construct. A great resource I recommend is Rosalie Maggio’s Dictionary of Bias Free Usage. There are 293 pages of inclusive word options to consider. I think we can all try to use a few!

I have also heard people evoking the term 'political correctness' to push back against inclusivity. To me, matters of inclusion are never political, and if a particular group of people is excluded, marginalized, stereotyped, appropriated, or defamed, even unintentionally, there is nothing correct about it. I have even heard push back against changing the names of sports teams that include racial or ethnic tropes. A name change that supports inclusiveness is progress, not tyranny, but I also feel holding onto sentimentality for something is not a bad thing; we just may need to take a moment to savour our feelings, and then move on.


I know first-hand it is possible to be nostalgic about something that did not survive the test of time. As a child, I had a book I loved that is now considered to be offensive. My feelings about the book are tied to positive childhood memories and exploring books, but that does not change the reasons its content and history are problematic. It is not up to me to decide if the book is appropriate. It is up to me to understand and accept the reasons why, which I do. It is up to me to move past it without complaint, which I did.

I work to understand and be considerate of things that do not directly affect me. I try to imagine how someone else may feel, especially if we have not had the same experiences or circumstances. I have heard complaints against the evolution of such things as the use of personal pronouns, and other shifts towards inclusive language. The simple fact is, all of us can contribute to a world where everyone is addressed in a way that makes them feel accepted, acknowledged and included. It is not difficult to do. All that is required is to do it until it becomes the norm.

In addition to letting language evolve, I think those of us with fewer obstacles can do more. We can transfer our abundance on to others. This is mostly figurative, like a non-transactional pay-it-forward, but if we have less obstacles, we can work harder to create that same reality for others. This does not mean we have no obstacles, challenges or boundaries, just less of them, and we can take our abundance and share it in whatever way is required.

The world will continue to change. Language will continue to change. What is acceptable in society will continue to change. How things are now is just a speck of time in the grand scheme of human existence. If you are not willing to reflect about why you don’t want to create or embrace change, you simply won’t. The alternative is to complain, resist and refuse.

Methinks thou doth protest too much.

That is the language style of Shakespeare; this writing form existed about 400 years ago, which may seem like a long time ago, but considering humans have been on earth for more than 300,000 years, this is a relatively short period of time. We no longer draw on cave walls or speak this way because is a different time. Holding onto something that is in the past is like running to catch a train that has already left the station. It is better to get on board and enjoy the ride than to be left behind.

Our words and how we use them matters.

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