I’m a co-advisor for a campus student club/chapter of Active Minds. One of the things we talk about in our meetings at LEAST once a semester is that using the right word does matter. Check out this great (short) video that emphasizes some of the things we share with our students: MUST SEE VIDEO
Two words I habitually say are “CRAZY” and “INSANE”. Truthfully, I had achieved a point where most of my verbal language (well… and SIGN for that matter) had eliminated these two words. I don’t know if it was the break between semesters or what – as I’m certainly not making excuses. To my dismay (with a little bit of HORROR thrown in) I discovered that these words were back — being used again as a common descriptor in my everyday language.
As a matter of fact when my epiphany occurred, I was actually having a Zoom meeting with the co-advisor of our much loved club, Active Minds. At least twice I said something about how “CrAzY” something was in regards to the total and normal OVERWHELM that accompanies this ongoing pandemic. My friend and colleague (to her credit) didn’t call me on it (though I wouldn’t have minded if she had), but y’all? American Sign Language is my second language! Therefore, facial expression, body language, posture, etc. are something I just pick up on as a normal part of any kind of communication, including verbal. So she tensed and her eyes popped wide; she calmly agreed with what I was saying but used better words like “disappointing”, “frustrating” and so on. I left that meeting determined to get back on track with using better words. Words that do not have negative connotations and stigma attached to them. It’s a “speech rule” that is important to me, so renewing this pledge to do better was also important to me.
Other Kinds of Poor Choice Phrases
This past week I was painfully reminded of other types of habitual words and phrases that are shockingly an eye-opener to the receiver. These are the kinds of phrases that make me WINCE – and I’m not always good at hiding that wince. I have a student in one of my face-to-face classes that says “what do you care, right?” and sometimes “what do I care, right?” It is very obviously a verbal habit because it rolls off the tongue almost like it is “filler”. For this student, I can only guess that it was habit, but self-fulfilling prophecy, Pygmalion effect, and abuse are likely culprits of using a phrase so frequently and out of context.
To explain how tragic this repeated verbal phrase is, we’ve only had two classes so far this semester and yet I know for a fact that I and others have noticed. Sure, the phrase was verbalized along with an eye roll, a self-deprecating chuckle, and failure to make eye-contact. It was not difficult to register the
in this oft-uttered phrase during our 10 minute after class “chat. Trust me. I’m no conversation guru nor interpreter police. However, I do pick up things like this because I *do* pay attention to facial expression, body language, posture, hand shapes (tense fists) and more when I communicate because I hear with bionics. I need those other cues for total understanding and clarity.
PERSONAL GOAL: Somehow, some way, let this student know during our semester together that I do. I do care. I care a great deal.
I would like to put out a challenge to every person reading this post who also lives with visible or invisible conditions or disability.
DO YOU FREQUENTLY AND HABITUALLY USE ANY LANGUAGE THAT UNDERMINES WHO YOU ARE?
It may not be words or phrases you even say out loud. Perhaps you only THINK these words that are ultimately harmful to who you are. You may need some help with this challenge. Ask someone else if you ever habitually utter negative words or phrases. Maybe even ask them to get back to you on it so that they can think about it. (BONUS: Perhaps they will also discover that they do this as well!)
If you are like me, we have been saying these things (or thinking them) so long that they are firmly entrenched in the way we respond and communicate with others. One of my siblings constantly smacks their head and says, “stupid, Stupid, STUPID” to themselves. Yup. That one is obvious.
Maybe (like me) self-deprecating humor is a way you cope or “deal” with your disability. Heck, many diversity champions and comedians use this means to educate and advocate. But y’all? You and I know when we are in advocate mode or bad-habit negative talk. Having a balance disorder, I am a klutz. I am constantly tripping, stumbling, and weaving my way around campus. For a very long time I would laughingly tell a concerned member of my “village” that “GRACE is not my middle name“. That is mild negative response really. However for ME, it started to fester a little. Every time I said this after an awkward stumble, I felt…
Now when I “skid around a corner and clutch at Finn’s vest while correcting my sliding right foot and over-compensating for a bounce of my shoulder off the nearest doorframe” (I kid you NOT), I simply say, “Whoa. That was a close call”. That’s enough for me now. I don’t feel less when I say it. Saying NOTHING does not work because I will be bombarded by well-meaning people in my “village” who ask if I am OK. Acknowledging my “close call” for some reason reassures everyone that I really am OK. “I’ve got this”. Recognizing negative language and learning to use BETTER words really does make a difference. It impacts self-esteem. Choosing BETTER words strengthens diversity advocacy and pride.
Words matter. Self-talk matters. You matter.
L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.
2022 Personal Hearing Loss Journal