Thoughts on Language Habits

I’ve recently started a new job at my university (which I am writing a post about, but for now I will keep secret!) and I am learning a lot about how to work with all different kinds of people. One of the many reasons I love my school is that it’s incredibly inclusive. No matter who you are, you are welcome on campus.

I have always had a very open mind, and appreciated people for their differences, whatever they may be. That said, I know there are some personality types that I struggle with. Nobody is perfect, and that most certainly includes me.

In the past, I have experienced conflict with people – friends even – that my personality tends to clash with. I hate butting heads with anyone, so, in order to avoid it, I try to be mindful. When I meet someone that I feel I may have a hard time with, I make sure to be aware of that feeling, and work hard on my end to make things work between that specific person and I. Almost every time I do this, I end up becoming great friends with the person, and we work very well together.

Now, with this new job, I am “being challenged,” if you will. My open-mindedness and friendliness is fairly obvious, but so are the habits that I have developed over the years. I had a fairly diverse friend group in high school. Especially in my spoken word poetry club, where my friends and I could share our deepest thoughts and feelings in a safe environment, I learned a lot about what it meant to identify as LGBTQA+, to use they/them pronouns, and to be classified as “different” in the eyes of society. I never looked at my friends differently when they confided in me, and I tried my best to abide by their wishes as far as how they wanted to be referred to.

It’s very hard, in a society that normalizes a gender binary, to adjust old habits that you don’t even realize are habits. I had little to no problems adjusting for singular, specific friends, but what I didn’t realize was that my language in general needed a change too. I use phrases like “you guys” and “cool, man” and “dude!” all the time – no matter who I’m talking to, whether the group is male or female or other. In my mind, these are all very casual phrases that I throw around without a problem, not realizing that for some people, being addressed as “dude” may be harmful or upsetting for them.

I’ve read enough comment threads to know that often times, people tend to think that trying to avoid phrases like these is silly, that people are oversensitive, that it doesn’t matter. But here’s the thing: it does. Just because you label the words you’re saying as “not harmful” does not necessarily mean that they won’t harm anyone else. This is something I didn’t think about until meeting my new work team.

There are many things that I say, in trying to be friendly and inclusive, that come across as hurtful and insulting to people I want to call my friends. Luckily, I have had some very productive conversations, and with grace and patience and practice on all sides, we (as in our entire team) are working on becoming better together, and better people.

Why do we have to use gender specific phrases in everyday/casual speaking anyways? From now on, I intend to be mindful of what I say. I know that changing my language from “you guys” to “you all” or “everybody” will take some time, since it is so reflexive for me. But at least I am willing to work on it. And, honestly, if everyone was, wouldn’t the world be a little bit happier?

If anyone has anything to say or add, please, leave a comment! As stated above, I am working on it (this work in progress – ha!), so if there is something above that needs to be changed or addressed, let me know!

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