Owning Our Words – Taking Responsibility as Bloggers

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”

Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two

As bloggers, we use words endlessly. We write 300 word posts here, 500 word posts there. Our words have immense power, they can make people cry, make people laugh, inspire people to do something to change the world.

These days, our words are not confined to the neat little world of our blogs. They spill out onto the comments of other blogs. They spread thinly over the 140 characters of twitter. They are shaped into Facebook statuses. We are building worlds of words around us all the time.

As a teacher, we were spending increasing amounts of time talking to children about their digital footprint. We talked about the importance of safety and privacy. We talked about never posting anything which they wouldn’t want their parents or grandparents to see. Nothing they wouldn’t want the police, their teachers or their principal to see.

It’s good advice for bloggers, I think, though in our case, we could also think about if we’re comfortable with our children or, down the track, our grandchildren, seeing what we write.

I tend to be careful with language when I talk. I try not to swear, mostly because I was always worried that it would become a habit, and I’d slip up in front of the children I was teaching. But I’ve also become more aware of language which is used, day to day, which puts whole groups of people down. I’ve adjusted my own phrases and words, and where I can, I’ve alerted others that their choice of words may be harmful. Yet, the other day I saw an image posted and shared on Facebook, with casual use of a harmful word – retarded – and I chose to say nothing.

Maybe I was feeling a little burnt that day, or maybe I was feeling like a little fish in a very big ocean, but for some reason I kept silent. But the word stayed with me. It nagged at me. It annoyed me. It tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that it was still there, that it wasn’t going away.

This word has come back into fashion in recent times. It’s thrown out there casually, used to mean stupid or foolish or bad. Of course, at the same time, it maintains a link to people with disabilities, so the user is – consciously or unconsciously – inferring that things are stupid or foolish or bad and similar to a person with a disability. Of course, this inference comes to a natural conclusion that people with disabilities, particularly Downs Syndrome, are stupid or foolish or bad.

Recently, there’s been a campaign in the United States to end the casual use of this word. It points out that this word is harmful and lazy. Lauren Potter, an actress on Glee, has been active in this campaign, making a PSA with Jane Lynch

There’s also some brilliant posts on this topic:

The Word “Retarded” is Not Cool
If you ask people not to use the word ‘retard’
Is the R-word Just a Word?

As bloggers, we have the ability to use our words to really do things in the world. We also have the ability to use our words in ways that harm others. There’s also times when we fall into silence, not wanting to stand out on our own, not wanting to make waves, especially if another blogger is bigger or more popular than we are. But, really, that’s not good enough. It’s time to stand up and say that words like that are not acceptable to post or share on our blogs. Not acceptable to post or share on our twitter accounts or through our Facebooks.

It’s not acceptable to stay silent any longer.

20 comments

  1. I always keep my mother in mind when I write… In saying that I recently used the ‘r’ word in a guest post- however it was said in a considered, diagnostic use of the word… I would hat to think it might offend anyone…

  2. I have seen this movement against the renewed vigour of the word in a derogatory way… and i must say I absolutely agree, in no way is it okay, or acceptable. your post was great, very thoughtful and considered. x

    #teamIBOT

    1. I think there’s a bit of ‘political correctness backlash’ going on with using words like this. Unfortunately, some people are happy to hurt others if they can ‘get around’ the ‘PC police’

  3. You make so many good points in this post. I understand that nagging feeling you speak of, the one that keeps reminding you that you have stood by and said nothing. So many of my young friends post things on social media that I know will haunt them later on, but how do I approach them without being offensive?

  4. Great post! I think people think that because it’s the internet it’s okay to fling words here and there but like you said, it sticks. And it is forever. And while that may keep me a little more cautious in what I say and how I say it, I prefer to be mindful in the language that I use.

  5. We do need to be very careful what we say online. Especially when short messages and comments can be so easily misinterpreted. I wonder how many people realise that comments they make on blogs will show up in Google searches on their name. I’ve had people ask me to delete their comments because they come up in the first page of results for their name. But, back to the real issue, I agree the word should not be used. I can also understand why people might not stand up and say so for fear I repercussions. The Internet can be nasty sometimes.

  6. I have to say as the parent of children with disabilities, I have always stood up against the use of this word… and if I think back, even when I was at school, I was uncomfortable with how much it was thrown around.
    Like you, I choose my words carefully, not only in real life but for my blog as well. Here’s hoping those words we leave out speak volumes. x

  7. I think words have huge amounts of power, and sometimes we abuse it and don’t use them right. I know I make mistakes all the time, but I try so hard to be careful in person and online.

  8. I think I saw the same post – I also felt uncomfortable with the use of that word yet chose to say nothing. I live by the mantra “if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all”. I think that is a pretty good rule to post and comment by.

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