Sanity check? Find a better term

The topic of inclusive language grabbed my attention again yesterday when I caught part of a Slack channel exchange about something done as a “sanity check.”

Anyone close to the world of coding and computer science has likely heard the term or even used it without any idea of what effect it can have on others.

Image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay

It’s not my place to tell anyone what words to use or not to use, but as a writer and editor I do value clarity and effective language right along with empathy. I wrote something about why inclusive language matters back in January.

Beyond altruistic considerations, less than thoughtful word selection can prevent some of your readers or listeners from getting and understanding your message. Those of us who have experienced mental illness, either our own or through the struggles of loved ones and friends, might see something you don’t when you’re doing a sanity check.

One might flash back to the memory of a cousin who suffered from schizophrenia for years until she was beaten to death with a shovel by her schizophrenic roomie.

Another might remember checking a sister into a hospital in such a deep depression that she thought about taking her own life, or remember a young man who did just that.

Choose your words carefully if you want everyone to hear them. Alternatives are easy to find.

Check your language.

B.J.

What does a yard sign say about you?

May 21, 2021: The little Trump/Pence yard is gone.


In the months before the 2020 presidential election, every time we walked Red Dog to Golden Ponds and back we passed a house with a large Trump flag blowing in the wind.

Why does this arouse so much anger? The image is from this story about people being threatened by a neighbor over a yard sign.

The flag no longer flaps in the breeze but a little Trump/Pence yard sign remains nearby to this day.

Is absence of the flag progress, or is the sign a reflection of more stubborn defiance?

I always wonder what the people who live there are thinking. We nod and wave to each other, have met once or twice only to forget each other’s names, and we go on minding our own business.

The sign is a pretty clear message, though, as is the colorful sign a few steps closer to the ponds on the other side of the road.

Both tell us something important about our neighbors.

What do they say to you? What do your own signs and your own votes say about you?

Plague of violence hits Boulder

A few days ago our nephew visited Boulder with his parents to see the CU campus, where he hopes to go to college soon. From the roof of a building on Pearl Street, I pointed to where a star of lights shines on the side of Flagstaff Mountain at night during the winter holidays.

I was wrong when I told them it’s lit for just a while during those joyous times.

It came on last night – Monday, March 22, 2021 – to honor the 10 victims of mass murder in a grocery store not far south of the CU Boulder campus.

In a press conference just now, the Boulder police chief read the victims’ names and ages. Officials made a point of not using the shooting suspect’s name, although it has been released.

It will likely take months for the legal system to finish doing what it does. The county district attorney said it could take a year. We do not have to wait that long to name the enablers.

Note the flag fetish, too.

Among the most prominent and despicable enablers are the elected officials and others who refuse to prevent gun violence, who actively promote gun violence through their words and deeds, who fail to recognize the deep, deadly addiction to guns and their use that infests our society.

We all know who they are. I’ll name one here because I live in the congressional district he professes to represent when in reality he represents the National Rifle Association and gun peddlers: Congressman Ken Buck, Republican from Windsor, Colorado.

He is complicit as can be. His first tweet following the murders at the Boulder grocery store was about his prayers for the police. That tells you all you need to know about Ken Buck. Later, after being called out for ignoring the victims, he threw some prayers their way.

I will try to remember the victims when I see the Flagstaff star from now on, but I will remember Buck, too.

Peace,

B.J.

Why inclusive language matters

Some people roll their eyes when the topic of inclusive language comes up. Others scoff quite openly or even worse. Occasionally someone asks what it’s all about because they’re curious and, I like to think, open-minded.

A friend asked me about it Friday night. I explained one aspect of it in words similar to these:

Let’s say I’m talking to a group of citizens here in Longmont, maybe making a presentation at a city council meeting about the need for safer streets. I start out by saying, “We all ride bicycles in this town…”

I would immediately lose the attention of every non-cyclist in the room and wreck any credibility I might have had just a minute earlier. My message would be lost on the non-cyclists and maybe even some cyclists.

Or let’s say I’m listening to someone in a virtual town hall meeting at work, and she says at one point, “Look, we’re all scientists here, so…”

The speaker would (and actually did) leave me wondering why she didn’t know that a good many of us in the room weren’t scientists. Why wasn’t she talking to the rest of us even though we’d all made an effort to attend? The speaker addressing the scientists lost my attention for at least the next several minutes of her presentation.

You can’t communicate effectively if you don’t know your audience. By using language that actually offends or alienates other people, you lose their attention and their respect.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“That makes sense,” my friend said. “It’s about communication.”

Exactly.

Too many people use offensive and exclusionary rhetoric to hurt others and even incite violence. Few of them will have read this far.

If your goal is to include and welcome people into your community, learn about and use inclusive language. More people will hear you.

If your message matters, all of your words matter. Choose them with care.

You’ll find links to a few of the many available resources below. Others are a simple search away. Do you know of other good ones? Let me know!

B.J.


Some resources about inclusive language

Ableism and Language https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/dasblog/2012/01/31/ableism-and-language/

ACM – Writing About Accessibility http://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/november-december-2015/writing-about-accessibility

An end to “Blind Review” https://blog.apaonline.org/2020/02/20/an-end-to-blind-review/

An Incomplete Guide to Inclusive Language for Startups and Tech https://buffer.com/resources/inclusive-language-tech/

Anti-Racism in Academia (ARiA) initiative https://aria.uga.edu/inclusive-language/

Conscious Style Guide https://consciousstyleguide.com/

Google – Writing inclusive documentation https://developers.google.com/style/inclusive-documentation

How to Minimize Gender Bias in Your Writing https://www.bouldereditors.org/2020/08/12/how-to-minimize-gender-bias-in-your-writing/

IETF – Terminology, Power, and Inclusive Language in Internet-Drafts and RFCs https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/draft-knodel-terminology

NASA to Reexamine Nicknames for Cosmic Objects https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-to-reexamine-nicknames-for-cosmic-objects

National Center on Disability and Journalism https://ncdj.org/style-guide/

Remember your oath? Did it expire?

Some things are hard to forget.

As I was reminded this morning while watching CBS Sunday Morning, Archie Bunker berated his “meathead” son-in-law for putting on his socks and shoes in the wrong order. I remember that show and often think of it when I put my socks on (not always followed by shoes, by the way).

Something else from early in the All in the Family years has also been on my mind: the oath I took when I enlisted in the Navy. I don’t recall anything in it about an expiration date.

My two+ years on active duty and a few more as a reserve don’t define me. I identify as a husband, father, brother and writer, and sometimes as a veteran when the subject comes up because it’s part of my history. That said, I recognize that serving my country during the Cold War affected virtually everything that has followed in my life.

Had I not been separated from active duty and returned to college when I did, I may never have met the woman who married me more than 40 years ago. She’s having her lunch a few feet away from me as I write this.

Who knows what children I would have had, if any? Would I have spent some wonderful time just last night watching my four-year-old granddaughter dance for us all in a Zoom show of her own creation? I’m not sure I would even be alive.

I’m proud to say I was discharged honorably from the U.S. Navy. I am grateful for the benefits available to me as a veteran. I remember the oath I took on a cold December night, then reporting to boot camp a few weeks later, and going on to play my small role to the best of my ability.

I am sickened now as I watch so many of our elected officials forget their own oaths, spread Trump’s lies, and reinforce his incitement to violence and insurrection. Whether they are simply cowards or actually bent on destroying our democracy, we need to remind every one of them about the oath they took when they were sworn in, and we need to bring them to justice.

B.J.