What power has language other than what we give it?
An argument that I have heard over and over in regards to political correctness and slurs.
Sure, but wouldn’t you want your words to be powerful?
With our words we bear witness, we pay our respects to events that might have been totally out of our control, but impacted others in an insurmountable way. We have the opportunity to create entire worlds with our words, to invoke emotion and to create beautiful things.
What people try and do is remove the power from certain words by using them as liberally as possible, as if the intensity of hurt has an expiration date, when all they are achieving is disrespect to those people for whom those words still hold influence.
Language is a strange thing. Symbols and sounds that shape our thought and our experience of reality, given meaning by outside influences, and then by our experiences. Sure, we translate words in our own way, transform them to back up what we already know. Isn’t there a certain arrogance in not allowing others to display hurt and anger, silencing and dismissing them as politically correct, as if that itself was a slur?
‘Otherness’ is a fundamental category of human thought. From the time that we are infants, we can recognize things outside of ourselves, that are not a part of ourselves, this is a natural part of our growth. However, social identity is not a natural process, as it involves the idea of the ‘other’ on a larger scale, of entire groups based on whatever set of characteristics that we decide on.
So what does this mean? We create a group, we label them (y’know, with words) and in that action of doing so we perpetrate a sense of uncertainty because we cannot ever truly know something that we are not. We also know that the driving force of hate is usually fear of the unknown.
I’ll leave you to put two and two together.
Personally, if I found that I was using a word that was offensive for a group of people, it doesn’t matter if I have those same feelings, I stop using that particular word out of respect. I don’t tell them to ‘get over it’ because hey, out of the millions of words that I have at my disposal, swapping a few out here and there isn’t going to kill me. But you know what? Not doing it might kill them. Because guess what? Words have power, and we have the responsibility to do beautiful things with it, rather than hurting people.