Mind Your Language

Andrew Mitchell in Pakistan

Andrew Mitchell in Pakistan (Photo credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development)

Unless you work in total isolation you probably realise that what you say, and the way you say it, has an impact on the people around you.

If you are a senior politician, like Government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell, it is probably unwise to (allegedly) use the word ‘Pleb’ – a derogatory description for a common person – within ear shot of a Downing Street police officer with whom you have just had a row.  It’s bound to antagonise a public servant to have that language buzzing in his ears.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19690240

If a comment made in the heat of the moment can be contentious how much worse is a homophobic remark, deliberately launched into cyber space towards Tom Daley and his diving partner Pete Waterfield, through social media?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/diving/9555394/Tom-Daley-homophobic-tweet-by-footballer-Daniel-Thomas-will-not-result-in-charges.html

Interestingly the Daily Telegraph article notes the Head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Keir Starmer, saying ”the time has come for an informed debate about the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media”.  How much thought is needed not to seem a twit when tweeting?

All of which makes the casual references to people being ‘mad’, when they in fact have a mental health issue, seem sadly common place.  Sadly as mental health charity Mind has evidence that verbal abuse can spiral into worse treatment.

http://www.mind.org.uk/blog/7459_coping_with_stigma

So, what is the solution, given the pressures that people are exposed to simply going about their daily lives, and the ease with which some people use offensive speech?

Taking a deep breath, releasing it slowly while counting to ten is probably not enough these days.

Maybe the guiding principle should be: speak to others, in an emotionally charged situation, as you would be spoken to yourself?

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