Why is language important?

11개월 전

I really need to get this thought down because, subjective as it may be, I think it is very important. It's about bastardizing our language.

As a writer, words are everything. They convey our thoughts, tell a story, give facts, tell a joke... Words can tear a person down and just as equally uplift them. WORDS HAVE MEANING.

As a student of psychology and lifelong observer of people, how we express our words can make or break lines of communication.

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There is a HUGE difference between the following language:

  1. You're a liar!
  2. I don't agree with what you said.

In some circumstances, we may be accused of being a liar for expressing an opinion. To say, "You're a liar!" is accusatory and aggressive. The person saying it has shut down. There is no debate and there is rarely any way to defend one's self from the accusation. (The exception being that you are dishing opinion as fact and really lying.)

To say, "I don't agree with what you said," leave the lines of communication open for debate or civil discourse. This is often a game of intellect, wit and coercion. Maybe you don't like what I said, but maybe I can convince you -- and equally, I am open to be convinced by your argument. Or, we can be civil and agree to disagree.


Why is this on my mind?


I really believe that California's governor, representatives, and law makers have lost their damn minds, and if you've been following California news, you will know that in late August 2019, San Francisco has curbed their language to be more inclusive, gentler, and kinder... to criminals.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors adopted a "language guideline" that was proposed by Sandra Lee Fewer, to make the following changes to their language:

PAROLEE = "returning resident" or "formerly incarcerated person"
ADDICT = "a person with a history of substance abuse"

Let's visit this for a moment.



Here's the thing: According to a San Francisco Chronicler article, 1 in 5 California residents has a criminal record, and Supervisor Matt Haney has stated that: “We don’t want people to be forever labeled for the worst things that they have done.”

But this kinder, gentler Board of Supervisors doesn't want to separate them, the criminal and drug addicted dregs, from our "justice-involved" society because to do otherwise makes us law-abiding citizens racist and supreme.

To label THEM as convicts, felons, delinquents and addicts apparently predisposes them to negative stereotypes.

But San Francisco's language would have YOU on the same level as a FELON.
Are you okay with that?


If a convicted person is out on parole, they are a "person under supervision.”

Our school children are persons under supervision. If we have a boss at work, we are also persons under supervision. If you are a law-abiding citizen, under the guidance and/or restrictions of your town, county, state or federal laws, you are a person under supervision.

Now, law-abiding citizens don't really consider ourselves to be under supervision because common sense, life experience and a moral compass actually guides us to stay out of jail.

Let's say I lived in San Francisco and a drug-addicted felony parolee decides to break into my house, I wonder what the police report would be like?

A returning resident currently under supervision, with a history of substance abuse, entered uninvited into the home of a justice-involved person.

What will they call rapists or pedophiles --
Justice-involved fornicators?


When you are assimilated into a culture or society, it is often the immediate community or circle of friends, not the government, that influences what is or is not appropriate in behavior and language. I do not condone stereotyping, bullying, shaming or bigoted language but I'm going to call a duck a "duck", and a criminal a "criminal."

If your government curbs your language and determines what labels are or are not appropriate then they are actually infringing on your First Amendment Right (free speech).

Let's wade a little deeper into the swamp.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors wants to change the language.

Calling the felons and law-abiding citizens "justice-involved," everyone can feel included within that society and there is nothing to really differentiate us from the criminal element in the eyes of that justice system.

Now imagine that the law-abiding citizens are fed up with the people in office? What if there is civil unrest - or worst case - civil war? What if those law makers feel like their person or position is threatened?

They've already bastardized the language and grouped us all in the same category of inclusive citizens. What's to stop these law makers from declaring martial law if they feel threatened by all of us "justice-involved" people?

Are you all right with that?

The law makers and policy providers who purposefully change the language, and subsequently the meaning of words, are diligently chipping away at your Constitutional Rights.

Be vigilant.
Do your research.
Don't let anyone else think for you.


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I don't agree with what you said. (Sorry, just had to try out your civil discourse discussion opener as I see this from a totally different perspective!) I've been thinking about your post for the evening and will try to tackle it in as orderly a manner as I can muster.

If your government curbs your language and determines what labels are or are not appropriate then they are actually infringing on your First Amendment Right (free speech).

First off, I don't see this being relevant in this situation at all. This is not a law to criminalize or regulate how you personally speak about people with a criminal history. Most organizations, public or private, have certain terminologies and vocabulary standards that they adhere to. In this case these terms are being modified to this "softer, gentler" stance which I assume will be reflected on official documents, correspondence, and personal contact from officials. In the past they were probably mandated to use the words felon, parolee, addict, etc. so at all times the speech within an organization has been controlled. It has never been "free" and this is just a shift in tone.

As a private citizen you are in no way obligated to use those terms. You've already classified all these people as dregs, and you're free to continue doing so.

In its official capacity, I'd hope that this new vocabulary would serve a twofold purpose. First, to appear less hostile toward a parolee or addict who may be interacting with an official or reviewing their own paperwork and correspondence. Secondly, to perhaps serve as a subtle reminder to those working in the system that the convicts and felons they are working with each day are in fact people with individual stories, circumstances, and values.

(notice I did use the "old" terminology... although I'm playing devils advocate here and agree with the spirit of this vocabulary change... I don't really like it! The phrases are klunky and given enough time without a change in culture, they'll simply inherit the negative connotations of their predecessors, thereby making the changes ineffective!)

But San Francisco's language would have YOU on the same level as a FELON.
Are you okay with that?

Yes I am. First, I think we're just interpreting some of these words differently. Prior to learning about this issue, would you ever have described yourself as a "justice-involved person?" Probably not. That's not a natural phrase. You seem to be equating it with law abiding or moral; someone who cares about justice. I immediately read it as someone who is involved in the justice system. Still vague as that could refer to judges, lawyers, etc. but in context I understand the intent. Justice-involved = locked up! A pretty way of saying convict.

As far as the other clever turns of phrase they're employing.... despite what Hollywood action movies have shown me, I'm assuming the chances of running afoul of the path of an escaped convict are about on par with getting hit by a bolt of lightning. It's probably not going to happen. Therefore, you'll only ever need to interact with a convict or inmate through some form of voluntary choice.

All our possible interactions will be with people who have served their time and have rejoined society. All those "returning residents" and "history of substance abuse" folks. Now remember... you're free to call them whatever you want! When they get a letter in the mail about an upcoming counseling appointment, it will now read "as a person with a history of substance abuse you are required to complete 60 hours of blah, blah, blah" instead of "as an addict you are required..." but on the streets you can call them a crackhead piece of shit to their face and no one will bat an eye. Free speech for the win!

But I guess it comes down to our views on the entire justice and prison system and people in general. If you believe 1. a person can change or be rehabilitated, and 2. they are deserving of a second chance. If you don't believe either of these than stop worrying about vocab changes and start lobbying for all crimes to merit life in prison/execution! But if you believe in either of those two things, then what is the harm in treating a previous offender with respect until they give a new reason to have it taken away?

Again, we're not talking about people still in prison, and those with crimes so heinous that they'll never get out. We will never have to interact with those people.

I don't care if more positive language is used to describe people with felony convictions because lifting someone else up does not bring me down.

I agree with you that words have power, and I believe that if we keep telling people that they're shit then they'll stay shit! When these kinds of verbal tactics are most often used to dehumanize classes of people based on religion/race/country of origin/etc.; I have a difficult time taking offense at a use of language meant to uplift and motivate a class of people that may need the mental and societal support to get back on track. Again, keep them locked up forever, or treat them like humans again when they get out... that's the only two logical options in my book.

And don't forget, law and morality do not perfectly overlap. Throughout history there have been many instances where the law was immoral and doing the right thing was criminalized. You even end your post musing about these "thought police" type actions leading to civil unrest or more. In that scenario you could quickly become a felon, convict, and offender. You say you're against stereotyping but I don't see that much in this post. I'd hope that when arrested for protest and disobedience you'd want people to look at you as an individual, and not as a dreg.

You said it yourself in your opening statement...

Words can tear a person down and just as equally uplift them.

I don't think we should keep tearing these people down. Certainly we shouldn't glorify or accept their crimes, but positivity and self esteem for the people themselves is perhaps a cornerstone of preventing recidivism and future crime and violence. Particularly in the cases of juvenile delinquents or addicts. (I mean, justice-involved persons with a history of substance abuse!)