How mindful language helps us challenge power imbalances by Liz Zadnik

Happy Saturday all!  Liz Zadnik here, aea365 Outreach Coordinator and sometime Saturday contributor.  Summer has arrived on the East Coast of the United States.  For me, summer has always encouraged me to check in with myself and take some time to reorganize and recalibrate.  Like time slows down a little and I have few more minutes each day.  

Lately I’ve been spending some time paying close attention to the words folks use when sharing ideas.  As a former English major, I appreciate words.  In fact, you could say I love them.  They carry power and potential – to connect or disconnect, affirm or harm.  There are so many colloquialisms with roots in oppression and inequity.  We’re not used to thinking about words in this way because that’s how norms work.  But when we take the time to be a little more mindful, we can challenge those norms and create spaces for meaningful collaboration.

Hot Tip: Exercise creativity and thoughtfulness when crafting titles, tweets, and tables. (I needed to alliterate there). Do we have to use “walk” when “travel,” “move,” or “journey” work well too?  I was perusing some workshop titles recently and saw a surprising amount of limiting language: “…walking together,” “One step at a time…,” and “Listening Session.”  I understand the intent of these choices, but that doesn’t minimize the hurtful consequences.   

Lesson Learned: Hold yourself to a higher standard, but also be patient when you slip up.  Recently I’ve noticed myself using “guys” to refer to groups of people.  I try to use “folks” or “friends” when I’m training or writing – something I learned along the way to learning to be an ally.  I slip up and then try again! 

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2 thoughts on “How mindful language helps us challenge power imbalances by Liz Zadnik”

  1. I must say I did not completely understand how the workshop titles you selected are limiting or harmful, but if others get it, fine; and I will educate myself to catch up. I did, however, appreciate the sentiment of the post. When I conducted research in high violence communities, I often reflected on what words I used that might not be appropriate in my communications with the community. Some words/phrases/sentences for which I often search for alternatives are: “bullet points” (we all know those little dots used to frame our lists; can we use something else?–not “arrow” points); “aims” (as in taking aim [with a weapon]; can we replace this with “goals” or “objectives”?); or, when someone needed to accomplish a task that needed work/more work– “I will take a shot at it.”/”Can you take a shot at it?” (as in I will try or or can you make an attempt?). Just thoughts. Hope they have not been limiting or harmful (and, if you cannot tell, I was not an English major).:)

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! These are super thoughtful examples – definitely demonstrate a mindful approach. (How did “bullet points” become a thing anyway?! Something to look into…) The examples I referenced were trying to point out that folks may not move around the world with “steps,” but rather with wheels or other assistive devices. There are so many avenues and perspectives to explore. I so appreciate your comment and commitment to promoting safety and affirmation!

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