“Was he bad today?” Those were the first words I heard from a parent picking up her child. Though I’m certain the question was asked out of genuine concern and desire to support our efforts at school, I was disheartened all the same. When I hear the word “bad” being used in that context, I cringe. Words matter, and many of our word choices (and behavior system practices) polarize behaviors into all-or-nothing categories that are damaging.
Good, bad, smart, dumb, friends, enemies – all words of extremes when used in certain contexts. The danger is that they create division, drawing attention to our differences rather than commonalities. Unfortunately, we don’t have to look very far to see how polarizing language has a negative impact on our society, as evidenced by commercials aired just before our last election. “Any vote for a Republican/Democrat is the kiss of death.” By lumping all individuals into categories of distinct differences, we isolate, demonize and work against our ultimate goal of coming together to find common ground.
One of my hopes for children is that they are able to look beyond themselves and have empathy for others rather than judgment. I want students to understand we all make poor choices and good choices (commonality), rather than seeing some students as “good” and others as “bad” (difference). I want them to realize we all have gifts and we all have challenges (commonality), rather than some students being “gifted” and others not (difference).
So, I challenge you to be intentional when choosing words. Avoid using language extremes because in many ways the future of our country and our children will be shaped be the very words we use today.