[TW for discussion of ableist language]
A lot of discussion I saw this week on Tumblr about ableist language regarding mental illness got me thinking about speaking (and writing) intentionally.
I live with mental illness. And not that it’s anyone’s business, but someone’s going to ask, so I live with bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety and OCD.
Not even I am sure that I can purge my language of words like crazy. First, I use the word crazy intentionally to refer to myself. Second, crazy is so widespread in the language that it feels like trying to get all the dandelions out of a field.
That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t task myself to try, especially if other people are asking me to. Even if I don’t know them. Even if it’s just a vague awareness I get from looking at my Tumblr dash.
I remember doing that eye-roll thing so many people do when asked to reconsider their language maybe 10-ish years ago the first time someone told me lame was an ableist word.
Hell, to be honest with you, I probably didn’t know what ableism meant back then. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t my obligation to learn.
Lame was a word that hurt the person I was talking to. So I started to root the word out of my usage. Because there’s no reason or excuse to do harm with your language, especially after you’ve been told that that is what you’re doing.
I don’t know how I feel about the word crazy. But I do know exactly how I feel when someone uses the words bipolar and OCD to make jokes about their own or other people’s behavior. It feels like total shit. Aside from demonstrating a complete lack of what these mental health issues are, it’s like, hello, I’m right here! Your friend with bipolar disorder and OCD? Remember me?
In the past few years, there has been a greater push to get people to stop using the R word. Recently, there was even a star-studded PSA about it. I posted this PSA to Facebook one day… and got like fifty comments from privileged people about how they were being attacked despite their “free speech” rights. Legit, one person said he felt “f’ing persecuted” for being asked not to use the R word.
Holy wow. You have freedom of speech. Other people have the freedom to point of if you’re being ableist (for instance). Someone pointing out your privilege is not an act of oppression.
My argument then, as now, is: don’t be mean. Invite yourself to be asked not to be mean. What is the problem with speaking (and writing) in a more intentional way to consider whether or not what you’re saying is hurting someone?
Even if they’re not there! It’s one thing to not listen to, say, homophobic music when your gay friends are around. But is it not a better thing to ask yourself how you can like homophobic music and gay people?
You not being offended by a word does not give you permission to decided whether or not it is offensive and whether or not it can hurt people. What is so wrong with being asked to check your vocab? Consider it as a chance to grow, to consider other people’s perspectives.
And consider it a chance to keep friends, before they decide that your language is too harmful to be associated with.
Just slow down and think before you speak. It’s not going to hurt you, and it will probably stop you from hurting other people.