If there is one thing I’ve learned from 12 years of talking and living online, it’s that no matter how hard I try, and despite my best intentions, what I write can and will often be received and interpreted differently than I intended.
Words can be an imperfect tool to communicate our feelings and lately I’ve become incredibly aware of, and sensitive to, the gap between what I say and how it’s interpreted. In that space between what I mean and how it affects someone reading, there is so much room for misunderstanding, hurt and distancing. And there is nothing I want more than for all of our words to bring each other closer together, closer to understanding and toward a greater connection with everyone in our community.
That space between words and their interpretation offers so much potential for disconnection, but it also offers the potential for real understanding and change. I’ve been guilty of ignoring that space and thankfully many of you have been patient and kind enough to email me when I use words or express myself in a way that makes you feel unwelcome, unrecognized or disrespected. Whether that language is ableist, sexist, appropriative or judgmental, hearing your reactions has been an incredibly valuable tool in learning to choose my words more carefully.
A few days after the murders in Orlando, I saw someone on a food blog mention how they could “murder a hamburger.” I bristled at the word choice and felt a deep twinge of pain when I interpreted that wording as insensitive to the LGBT community, a community I am a part of and one that was deep in mourning. Then this week, after the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five Dallas police officers, I saw several people speak about flowers on Instagram, saying they, “would kill for those” or that they were “dying” over the arrangement. It was a personal turning point for me when I realized how big that gap can be between the intention of a causal comment, meant to express dramatic love of something lighthearted, and the effect it can have on someone grieving or dealing with a great loss.
We are all prone to hyperbole online. Including myself. Perhaps it’s the pervasiveness of click-bait culture, but I’ve realized that it’s all too easy and common for me to abbreviate and exaggerate my feelings in a way that can distort the true value of life. I care deeply about the people in our community and want all of us to feel equally heard, respected and connected. Here at Design*Sponge, I will be continue to actively pay close attention to the words I use and be mindful of their impact. Rather than a simple promise, I hope this can be the beginning of a conversation. What are some of the ways you have felt the distance between the intention of a statement and its reception? What are some of the words and phrases you’re sensitive to and/or trying to not use? What is something that you’ve said that you wish you said differently? Please tell me. I am listening. —Grace
Photo above by Allan Peters from #dslettering