Society drives change and change drives society.
Change is not always for the better, but one thing that has been changing for the better is our use of language in reference to our fellow humans.
Even seemingly innocuous words can be fraught with hatred and the intent to dehumanize other people.
In our own lifetimes, the words we have used in reference to people with cognitive or intellectual challenges, Indigenous people, people of colour, people experiencing mental health issues, people of other nationalities, LGBTQ+ people, people with weight problems and other identifiable groups have changed dramatically.
This is not political correctness; it is not virtue signalling; it is not blaming the people alive today for the transgressions of our dead ancestors.
It is good old-fashioned compassion. It is recognition that despite the considerable progress we’ve made, the old problems persist.
Note in the references above there is one common word: people.
Until we get that fundamental concept, that we are one species that exhibits remarkable mental, physical, cultural, behavioural and morphological diversity, we will continue to fumble around with solutions to the societal problems that have always plagued us.
Change is scary, particularly for those of us born to positions of privilege. It is scary for good reason; history has not been kind to the privileged.
It doesn’t have to be that way, however. All of the movements of the past half century-plus, from civil rights to feminism to LGBTQ rights to Indigenous rights and the renewed passion to bring racism to an end have not been about stripping rights and opportunities from the majority, but ensuring that all people enjoy the same rights and opportunities.
Yes, it is already true, on paper, but the reality for disenfranchised groups is quite different.
If we can’t overcome our fear and our tendency to dig in rather than open our hearts, it could get even uglier than it already is.
The first step is understanding. The beginning of understanding is language.