Words are important. For some fancy schmancy folks, this extends to the way those words are put together (‘framing the narrative’). For those of us in the science and engineering fields, we know this to be obviously true for our own areas of interest (the difference between pressure and stress, for example, for a mechanical engineer), but we may be less likely to think about the correct word in social situations. One thing that can rub people the wrong way is to refer to a bunch of people (who may not all be men) as ‘guys’ (as in ‘Hey, guys, how are you?’), so referring them as ‘folks’ (‘Hey, folks, how are you?’) can get the same point across without ruffling feathers. The list is long, but it doesn’t mean we have to be uber-politically correct all the time. For me, simply asking goes a long way, and that takes a lot of heat off.
The use of the right words can also set the tone for whatever you are discussing, and with regard to our converging catastrophes involving the environment, economy, and energy, this is instrumental in attempting to make changes in people’s behaviors. One of the best comments that I’ve ever read or heard regarding these discussions has been a seemingly obvious one – let’s start by substituting the word ‘consumer’ with ‘citizen’. A fantastically simple thing, but when you hear people suggesting things like ‘consumers should have a choice’, and you replace ‘consumer’ with ‘citizen’, the back-and-forth on the topic under consideration takes on a whole new meaning. Being a consumer means being a mindless drone who eats and pollutes, without any regard for the world. Being a citizen means far more – it means rights and responsibilities; it means choices and sacrifice; it means freedom and obligations.
There are plenty of folks who have brought this up; my short commentary is one of many that you can find on the ‘net. The most important thing – let’s all start bringing this up when we talk to our friends, families, and colleagues. As citizens, it is our duty to ourselves, our communities, and our planet.