I guess I’m missing the activist gene, because it just doesn’t come naturally to me. My genetic code seems heavier with apathy and procrastination. But, you know what? When I stop and pay attention I have to say, campaigns do matter.
We talk a lot about civility here at this blog, and I’m not at all apathetic about our need for civil discourse. As a person of faith I am convinced that our kindness, our gentleness and our support of all people’s value and dignity are at the core of being who God has made us to be, in both our words and our actions. Campaigns often help bring important things into focus and remind us of how we are to do life, how we are to do life well.
Someone just today on my Facebook feed shared something from the campaign to get us to stop using the word “retarded” as a humiliating insult or degradation of someone or something. I agree and I shared it along. I hate the word. It sounds and feels like a hit from a baseball bat. We need to do the same with the word “gay,” just like we need to stop using “hit like a girl” and various male and female genitalia as descriptions of negative and inadequate human attributes or behaviors.
Why does it matter? Isn’t this just all “political correctness” gone too far? I’m really done with the idea that we can use speech to offend, hurt and degrade, and then cry “political correctness” when we are held accountable for the destructive qualities of our verbal choices. I’ll tell you why the words we use matter:
1) Words have meaning, history and power. We cannot simply use a hurtful word and claim innocence by the fact that we have decided what it means for ourselves regardless of the word’s meaning and influence in the lives of other people. Retarded is a great example. The word has been used to degrade, hurt and humiliate people for years. It has, as many words do, both denotation and connotation. We do not have the right to ignore it’s negative impact on people around us.
2) We cannot use a word as an insult without insulting that to which the word refers. “That’s so gay” is an insult to gay people. “Hit like a girl” is an insult to girls, not a scientific measurement or expression of applied force. Using phrases like “He’s a real douche” or “Don’t be a dick” attaches negative meaning to things which are not in themselves negative. Feminine hygiene and male genitalia are not bad things. Our thoughtless words and actions can lead us to unintended consequences of meaning and perpetuation of hurtful meanings.
3) We have an obligation to listen and care. When our neighbors are injured by our words and/or actions, we have an obligation to care. There is no healthy philosophical, religious or spiritual system which separates one person’s well being from the well being of the world and people around her/him. We are connected. We should care.
- Joining a campaign doesn’t fix the problem. We don’t signal our participation with an anti-bullying campaign believing that to be the solution to bullying. What we hope is that within the sphere our friends and family we might increase the conversation and awareness of a problem, and thus we would hope to participate in concrete steps toward a solution.
- Joining a campaign does mean you’re thinking about something. Thinking is a good thing.
- Joining a campaign does mean you’re listening. Listening is polite.
- Joining a campaign does encourage campaign creators. That’s just neighborly.
Here are a few campaigns I’ve valued over the years and in recent months. I was excited to have had a chance to run in a local ONE Campaign 5k earlier this year and I just got my “It’s On Us” t-shirt a few weeks back. I believe that these kinds of campaigns are hopeful and reflect a lot of positive thinking and action in our world. I just might be becoming an activist…
Spread the Word to End the Word (retarded)
It’s On Us (combatting sexual violence)
He For She (solidarity for gender equality)
Hollaback! (you know, stopping street harassment)
I Choose (anti-bullying)
Human Rights Campaign (civil rights and equality)
The ONE Campaign (ending poverty)
Let’s keep it real. Endorse and support the campaigns you believe in, and let’s make the world a better, shinier, happier place for having supported us through the years of our lives.