Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lazy and Dangerous

At the time, it really annoyed me how persnickety Professor J. Pablo Silva was about having clear antecedents. There was to be no "this" or "that" or "it" in your paper. As a reader, the text should be clear as to what it is referring. As a writer, you need to know what you're actually talking about. Clear referents make for a clearer argument. Now, more than ten years out of college, "you have to say what you're talking about" is one of the things I am happiest that I had driven into the depths of my psyche. You can't just talk about stuff. You have to be clear.

It's human nature to want to classify things together and establish some shorthands, but there is a danger implicit in simplifying our world. Some twitter conversations from last week come to mind.

Some articles about "millennials" (here and here) went around twitter, and I couldn't agree more with Giso's responses;

I think we can go much further than "sloppy shorthand." The shorthand encourages lazy thinking because if the shorthand says that X is like Z, you don't need to consider any other scenarios (maybe some X are like M!). Lazy thinking is bad, but the group, especially with terms like "millennial" when used as a shorthand for upper middle class college students, constitutes a violent erasure of those who don't fit in the category. In this case, if X isn't even X, what is it? It doesn't exist.

Glossing over diversity within a group and ignoring those outside the group is what makes shorthands like "millennial" both lazy and dangerous.  We should take the time and energy to be clear about who we mean when we're speaking. We should take the time to make sure we are talking about people and striving to continually recognize their humanity. It will help us provide better service and to be better people. And that's what I'm all about.

We do "fun shorthand" in other places, too. It's also dangerous and can be, as Erin said in this twitter convo, "weirdly dehumanizing." 

If I use the shorthand of "minion," I need to know that everyone is in on my joke, which I can't know from my position of power. I struggle with how to call my staff in a way that values them and values our relationship. Even if there is a "fun" shorthand, we might should strive to act and speak in a way that expresses others' value as people, and is the most compassionate.

You don't even know how many times I re-wrote sentences that used "this" "that" and "it" in this post. Probably missed some. I will probably talk about "millennials," I will probably call my staff members "my people," and probably worse things.  It takes attention, practice, and persistence. Let's try, though.

What do you think about creating a humanizing and compassionate language? What terms do you struggle with? Hit up the comments!

Keep Rockin,

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