It starts off innocently enough. My friends and I will tease one another until one friend starts laughing hysterically, like a psycho, which we jokingly call her. Little do we know that one of her family members is dealing with mental health issues. A more common scene is when a friend randomly (as it always seems to be unsubstantiated) announces that she feels fat; we then try to convince her otherwise. She doesn’t recognize that she is the thinnest one among her friends and that there may be someone in the room who’s been struggling with weight issues.
But these occurrences are innocent enough. People typically don’t call their friends psychos to make jabs at them or call themselves fat with the intention of having their friends evaluate their own current weight.
It’s left up to the recipient, then. That person decides whether to react and risk accusation of being too sensitive, because how would anyone know about any sentiments toward a specific word if he or she neglected to share their personal experience with anyone? No harm is done if the person chooses not to react, but if he or she disapproves and decides not to say anything, there is a risk of feeling bitterness toward the friend.
Although a call to change is likely to be started by an individual who has a personal attachment to a specific word, they are not the only ones responsible for raising awareness. There must be a reaction to words that are used inappropriately because, even if it doesn’t affect you personally, it can cause unnecessary grief to another person.
While I wish people were more aware of the power that words have, I realize that we cannot completely eradicate all words that can potentially offend someone. It just isn’t practical — or logical — for that matter. Words are created with an intended meaning, and over time, negative connotations have been tacked on to them. Now is the time to correct words that have gone wrong.
There are many movements that pledge to end the usage of certain words. One of the more popular campaigns is Spread the Word to End the Word, which calls for the end of the word “retard.” Initially, this term only had a medical connotation, but over time, it has been more commonly used as a slur — like many other words and phrases, such as “lame” and “dumb.” Another familiar campaign is ThinkB4YouSpeak, which asks for people to pledge not to use homophobic words and phrases.
Thankfully, because of these movements, words and phrases like the “R” word and homophobic slurs are becoming less popular, and chances are, if someone does happen to use any one of these slurs, a well-meaning friend will speak up. Unfortunately, though, there are words that have the same negative effect, but their potential for harm goes unrecognized.
For example, calling someone “emo,” “crazy,” or “psycho” or jokingly accusing that person of having a psychological disorder such as obsessive-compulsive disorder seems more funny than serious; however, in our jesting, we forget that mental health concerns are a reality for many people.
It is worth the effort to be cognizant of the effect of words on others. For those who are offended by the use of certain words, it is their responsibility to raise awareness and speak out when other people use such words. And, although difficult, we all must be more understanding. People will joke around and use words whose harm is unknown — because, unfortunately, there are many issues that still remain under the radar.
Monica Mikhail contemplates the truth of the matter in her Thursday blog. Contact Monica Mikhail at [email protected].