Words Matter is much more than the name of a project by the National Council of Church’s USA Women’s Ministry. Being unmindful of the words we use or worse—refusing to see the import of the words that we use—destroys lives.
Bullying is one way popular culture refuses to acknowledge that words matter. Rather than see name-calling, ridiculing, and verbal attacks as violence—far too many see these as rites of passage. While adult bullies tend to be the ones that defend if not actually cheer on the younger bullies, even past victims provide such unhelpful opinions as, “I was bullied as a boy! It made a man of me!”
Another way we deny words matter is in the vitriolic nature of words used around our differences of political opinion. The demonizations of the other camp and the out-and-out name calling of the opposition is no longer reserved for the episodic nationalistic fervor which has historically allowed us to wage war against and attempt to wipe from the earth certain powers and populations called “the enemy.” Currently, members of the same political party happily label each other in volatile and dehumanizing ways.
It isn’t just words. The cross hairs over Gaby Gifford’s picture that once appeared on a past candidate’s website is enough of an example of how value given to another can take life. Intolerance of any kind must be rebutted. Careless words and images cannot go unchallenged.
Religious intolerance is another example. And lest someone reading this thinks I am making a mountain out of a mole hill, we have too much history in this country of religious intolerance! Mary Dyer was hanged June 1, 1660 because of her religious beliefs. And more recently, CAIR launched a nationwide public service announcement campaign, called “I am an American Muslim,” designed to help reduce anti-Muslim discrimination and stereotyping.
Categorizing anyone who disagrees with us as being more than a person with a different opinion is a slippery slope. Saying they are not American, Christian, or patriotic (or fill in the blank) because they have a different opinion than ours places a strange god before any God. The more we see our neighbor as “other” the more likely we will lose our own humanity. Please. Speak up for tolerance. Please, risk kindness.
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice and currently serves as co-chair of the NCC’s Justice for Women Working Group.