Words hold power. We all know we’re not supposed to judge someone on appearances, so maybe we listen to someone else speak of that person, or we read about that person. The thing is, the connotations of words still shape and color a picture in our minds. Connotations are the emotions and nuances of words, and the English language is a tricky one that way. A good writer knows he or she can effectively craft a character this way, and so many other points. The problem with this is being careless with our words and creating the wrong impression.
My intention today, however, is not to give a writing or English lesson. My intention is to nudge people to think more carefully about words already used out there and to dig beyond the words to the people the words are about. Never judge solely on appearances or words because words can be tainted, whether intentional or not. Keep this in mind while watching and reading the news.
Judge with your heart.
A little something I used to do to help my students understand the importance of connotation and word choice was to list some words and have them put them in order of weakest to strongest or good to bad (if I gave them a full spectrum of words) .
furious, mad, upset, miffed, enraged, angry
The result would be close to this:
upset, mad, angry, furious, enraged, and “what is miffed?”
Forget miffed. At that point we would have had a talk about slang words and how they change from generation to generation. It’s irrelevant here. I’m just making sure you’re still paying attention.
If I gave you a list of words to describe a person and asked you to put them in order of your personal feelings towards him or her from sympathetic to unsympathetic, what order would you put these words into?
prostitute, trafficking victim, hooker, exploited child
Your list would most likely look something like this:
exploited child, trafficking victim, prostitute, hooker
Explanation: People tend to feel automatic sympathy toward a child; trafficking victims sound like they can be any age, and our minds would automatically want to think they were not children; prostitute sounds maybe just a little better than a hooker who is obviously lower class
Something like all that, right?
What if I said all those choices are descriptions of the same person? Oftentimes a child becomes a victim of trafficking, and is then exploited for years as a prostitute, and because most people automatically assume a prostitute has no morals, it becomes fairly easy to tack on the stigma of the word hooker.
The problem with this is that very few children desire to grow up to sell their bodies. They want to be doctors, veterinarians, singers, firefighters, or astronauts. Few people would ever make such a choice. They are either forced into it, or their weaknesses are exploited. Most of them want out of such a lifestyle but are either trapped physically by literal chains and locks, guns, or drug dependence or in bondage by emotional chains of helplessness, dependence, self-loathing, or fear.
When we begin to think of these people as individuals instead of classifying them all the same we see them as daughters, sons, siblings, and friends who just want love and acceptance, and most likely a new life.
Human trafficking does not just cover those who are tricked, sold or kidnapped and forced to work in fields or brothels for little to no wages, but any person who becomes a commodity. If we consider this properly, they are all exploited and they are all victims, even if we don’t see the chains that bind them. 30 million people around the world are enslaved in some way today. Right now. In this very moment.
According to the Not For Sale Campaign
Slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence, to maintain that control, exploits them economically and they cannot walk away.
Let’s all help to empower them to go beyond being victims to becoming survivors. We need to change our perspectives and to reach out in love and show them dignity.