Writers know better than most that the words chosen matter.
The words we choose to use can have an impact beyond just the ideas that are being expressed.
Despite the playground mantra of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” that we all grew up with, we know now that words can and do hurt.
I also understand that word use changes over time.
Words we used 20 or 30 years ago might not be the same words we would use today, and the words we use today might not be the same we will use in another 20 or 30 years.
Take the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s decision this year to add the word “irregardless” to its collection as a nonstandard entry (Microsoft Word’s spell check has apparently not yet been notified).
One local organization is pushing for people to reconsider the words they use to talk about a subject that is becoming increasingly important in B.C. — addiction.
That group is Addiction Matters Kamloops and it is asking people to “Take The Pledge” and help end the stigma around substance use.
And for good reason.
Stigma keeps people from talking about their experiences.
Stigma keeps people from reaching out for help or accessing community services.
Stigma makes recovery even more challenging.
And each of us can help by simply making small changes to the words we use.
There are only four components to the pledge.
First, avoid using words or language that are stigmatizing, such as addict, abuser, junkie or crackhead.
Second, encourage others to use non-stigmatizing language and to understand the impacts of stigma on individuals and families affected by substance use.
Third, use language that is compassionate and respectful when discussing addiction or someone who uses substances.
Finally, think of the person as a person and do not define them by their illness.
You can, of course, make this pledge without any sort of proclamation, but you can also visit the Addiction Matters Kamloops website at addictionmatters.ca/takethepledge to make your pledge official.
Hundreds of people have made the pledge on the site.
Given the recent release of overdose numbers in B.C. that show a marked increase over the same period last year, it can be easy for the realities of the opioid crisis to become nothing more than statistics, but it’s vital to remember there are people — real people, with families and friends and loved ones — behind those numbers.
And we should all be doing what we can to help them.
In the grand scheme of things, making some changes to how we talk about substance use should be easy to do, but it’s also something that will have real, tangible results.
Which is why I’m declaring here that I have taken the pledge.
I will be working to change the language I use when talking about substance use. And I challenge anyone reading this to do likewise.
Let’s all try to be allies and better communicators. It’s only going to make the world a better place for everyone.