I don’t think many of us can go through a day right now without feeling the impact of the onslaught of inflammatory remarks coming out of our political process at the moment. It’s been a long, long summer, and I’ve had to limit my exposure. I keep looking for some sort of hyperbole block at the store, but have come up short. However, this whole season has gotten me thinking about our choices of words, and more importantly, their impact on others.
Years ago I had a manager who used the word deliberate a lot. He spoke of being very deliberate in our choice of words. At the time, I wasn’t in a space to really hear his message, but years later, I get it, or at least more so than before. Words are powerful, and are a tool used everyday to convey our message, and over time, determine our brand. In their worst usage, they “other” people, like what happened on Tuesday.
I was incredibly disheartened to hear Syrian refugees compared to Skittles, an inanimate object known largely only to the western world, and with potentially racist ties. I read in disbelief how an entire population of people could be summed up as a bowl of candy. Furthering my shock, were the folks defending the comment. So, let’s take a closer look at what’s really going on here.
The analogy grossly simplifies the actual situation, and does it largely on plain old fear mongering. Currently, Americans’ risk of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack are 1 in 3.64 billion as noted by Elise Foley. Think about that for a moment. Our chances of dying in a car accident are 1 in 113 and most of us manage that risk every day, often several times a day, to be honest. Yet, there are folks that look at the graphic, and the wording, and truly believe this risk is imminent. Because yes, poisoned candy should be avoided. The thought of eating poison is terrifying, but that’s not the risk here. The two situations are nothing alike. But, I digress.
Back to our choice of words, and their implication. Words carry a tremendous amount of weight, and can have a significant impact on others. And when our words are thrown out there carelessly, we are accountable for the repercussions, and we’re not absolved because it is someone else, other there. Words matter, and they matter a lot. Words like always and never are rarely accurate in the scientific world, and far less in the human one. Comparing living, breathing men, women, and children facing a horrific humanitarian crisis to candy is shocking. It objectifies the people in crisis, and objects can be discarded or ignored raising the specter of insignificance.
What we choose to say matters.