“Was he bad today?” Though I’m certain the question was asked out of genuine concern, I was disheartened when parents would pick up their children after school and ask me this question. When I hear the word “bad” being used in this context, I cringe. Words matter, and many of our word choices polarize 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 this week to see how damaging polarizing language can be. By lumping all individuals into categories of distinct differences, (Those crazy Democrats… Those radical Republicans…) we assume, isolate, demonize and work against our ultimate goal of coming together to find common ground.
When young children start talking about “good kids” and “bad kids” (differences and extremes), I reframe the discussion, helping them see how we all have gifts and challenges (commonalities). We then talk about what we can do to support each other in making better choices as a class community. We move away from the labels of “good” and “bad” and actually talk about specific issues together. And when this happens, the students begin to move towards a place of empathy and understanding rather than one of judgment.
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.