Bad News, Hats, and Equity Language


March 31, 2023 by libroshombre

               Hats have always adorned my noggin, and as my marvelous momma traveled the world she always inevitably returned with hats – from an Afghan mujadeen’s and Spanish policeman’s topper to a faux leopardskin fez and a Laplander’s four winds hat.  My favorite summer cap has been one emblazoned with “Y’all,” a term I happily use since it’s my native language and the only grammatically legitimate second person plural pronoun in English.  I’ve reluctantly retired it since learning “y’all” has been embraced by those espousing Equity Language Inclusion (ELI) and wearing it might be misconstrued as supporting that effort.  On the other hand, by contributing to the Horned Lizard Conservatory Foundation I received the new horny toad hat I now sport.

            It’s usually best to lead with the bad news and follow with the good, according to Drs. Peter and Susan Glaser, the best interpersonal trainers I’ve ever encountered.  My favorite class with them was how to bring up a difficult subject with someone and resolve it satisfactorily and amicably; the technique worked at home and at work.  The Glasers still send worthy email suggestions , and their 279-word “Deliver Bad News First” begins “Life often presents us with good news/bad news scenarios. When we have to break such news to others, we tend to want to lead with the good stuff … The tendency to lead with good news is something researchers call ‘priming emotional-protection.’ In non-research speak, this means: ‘This might go badly, so I’ll ease into it’ … Often the goal of delivering bad news is to alert others about a potential issue, to resolve a situation, or to change a plan or direction … Once people know that there is bad news, they can shift into problem-solving mode.

            Lately people on both sides of the political landscape want to ban lots of words, as illustrated by a recent News Miner editorial cartoon showing a rightwing bookworm devouring a book titled “Books I Don’t Agree With” from one side while on the other a leftwing bookworm does the same.  From the Florida legislature to the Anchorage Public Library Board, conservatives are removing words about race, gender, and history, and the ELI proponents are equally active, except with different sets of words.  As deeply troubling as is the conservatives wanting to re-write history and hide valid sex and gender information, the liberals want to exclude words that might be demeaning to someone somewhere.  ELI’s spreading like a spruce-fed wildfire and at its logical conclusion little of our language would remain usable under their strictures. Grappling with the issue has been personally difficult, but fortunately there’s solace in “The Moral Case Against Equity Language,” a new article by George Packer in the April edition of The Atlantic.

            Packer pointed out that “The Sierra Club’s Equity Language Guide discourages using the words ‘stand,’ ‘Americans,’ ‘blind,’ and ‘crazy.’ The first two fail at inclusion, because not everyone can stand and not everyone living in this country is a citizen. The third and fourth, even as figures of speech (‘Legislators are blind to climate change’), are insulting to the disabled.”  ELI seeks “to cleanse language of any trace of privilege, hierarchy, bias, or exclusion. In its zeal, the Sierra Club has clear-cut a whole national park of words. ‘Urban,’ ‘vibrant,’ ‘hardworking,’ and ‘brown bag’ all crash to earth for subtle racism. ‘Y’all’ supplants the patriarchal ‘you guys,’ and ‘elevate voices’ replaces ‘empower,’ which used to be uplifting but is now condescending. The ‘poor’ is classist; ‘battle’ and ‘minefield’ disrespect veterans.”

            There is a plethora of equity language guides published by nonprofit and educational organizations across the land, and “most of the guides draw on the same sources from activist organizations: A Progressive’s Style Guide, the Racial Equity Tools glossary, and a couple of others … Although the guides refer to language ‘evolving,’ these changes are a revolution from above. They haven’t emerged organically from the shifting linguistic habits of large numbers of people. They are handed down in communiqués written by obscure ‘experts’ who purport to speak for vaguely defined ‘communities,’ remaining unanswerable to a public that’s being morally coerced. A new term wins an argument without having to debate … Continuing to use a word that’s been declared harmful is evidence of ignorance at best or, at worst, a determination to offend.”  Packer added “The guides want to make the ugliness of our society disappear by linguistic fiat. Even by their own lights, they do more ill than good—not because of their absurd bans on ordinary words like ‘congresswoman’ and ‘expat,’ or the self-torture they require of conscientious users, but because they make it impossible to face squarely the wrongs they want to right, which is the starting point for any change. 

            However, a rational, constructive, and scientifically proven method of reducing oppression and injustice already exists: reading fiction to enhance personal empathy.  An article from none other than the US Chamber of Commerce, “What Is Your Emotional Intelligence?” defines emotional intelligence (EQ) as “a person’s ability to manage their feelings and empathize with others. A person with high emotional intelligence can recognize emotions — both their own and the emotions they see in others — and act in such a way that helps them succeed.”  It cites psychologist Daniel Goleman who in 1995 coined the phrase and listed components of EQ, such as, self-awareness (“you understand your strengths, weaknesses, moods and emotions”), self-regulation (“someone who thinks before taking action”), and empathy (“someone who can easily recognize and understand other people’s emotions”).  And the Harvard Business Review article, “The Case for Reading Fiction” notes that “reading fiction may provide far more important benefits than nonfiction. For example, reading fiction predicts increased social acuity and a sharper ability to comprehend other people’s motivations. Reading nonfiction might certainly be valuable for collecting knowledge, it does little to develop EQ, a far more elusive goal. Research suggests that reading literary fiction is an effective way to enhance the brain’s ability to keep an open mind while processing information, a necessary skill for effective decision-making.”

            Many studies have shown that reading fiction enhances the reader’s compassion, and the Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko is a paragon of empathy; as described in “Are You an Echo: The Remarkable Story of the Forgotten Young Woman Who Became Japan’s Most Beloved Children’s Poet,” an online article by Maria Popova. Kaneko was born in 1903, her bookstore owner father died when she was three, but her mother was determined that her daughter be education and Kaneko stayed in school and read voraciously and wondered widely.  “Like Oliver Sacks, who would lie in the garden and wonder what it’s like to be a rose, young Misuzu would puzzle over what it’s like to be snow and how orphaned whale calves grieve their parents after a whale hunt.”  Her first poems were written in her early 20s and her poetry was published across Japan. Unfortunately she married a creep “who turned out to be a terrible, unfaithful husband” and she “contracted a disease from her husband that caused her great pain.  To compound the physical agony, he forced her to stop writing.  She committed suicide at age 26.”

            Kaneko’s most famous poem is “Are You an Echo?” “If I say, ‘Let’s play?’/ you say, ‘Let’s play!’/ If I say, ‘Stupid!’/ you say, ‘Stupid!’/ If I say, ‘I don’t want to play anymore,’

you say, ‘I don’t want to play anymore.’/ And then, after awhile, becoming lonely/ I say, ‘Sorry.’/ You say, ‘Sorry.’/ Are you just an echo?/ No, you are everyone?
            As novelist Mohasin Hamid, wrote, “Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.”

One thought on “Bad News, Hats, and Equity Language

  1. Mary Ann Eininger says:

    How the words just flow! You are a gifted communicator! Thanks for your efforts to continue to educate and entertain us!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: