November 29, 2011

Them's Judging Words

A theme that's emerged in Creative Communications this term is the power of words to pass judgement.

Journalism class featured a strongly worded instruction on using the word "suffers" to describe anyone coping with an illness (she suffers from cancer, he suffers from parkinson's). The instruction was DON'T YOU DARE. Unless we were going to quote their own words, we weren't ever to use the word 'suffers' for fear of belittling a person - making them a victim instead of a human.

It was a harder mental shift than I expected. Because disease and misfortune are unpleasant, right? You don't enjoy illness - you suffer. These same thoughts occurred when I was a boy growing up in church and the minister preached on Romans 5:3 "... but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance." My seven year old mind rebelled at the idea.

I realize they're not the same concept, but I think my objection to both was similar. Namely that we don't exist independently of our circumstances. If someone stabs me, I will cry. Everyone cries when they're stabbed.

That was my objection at the time. But over the past four months, I find my thoughts swinging the other way. Not because of increased perseverance; I'm a giant suck of a kitten and always will be. And not because of increased faith; stay tuned for my 'holiday' post to deal with that.

But from the continual stream of examples I've been shown where a "factual" story describing a person's circumstances/misfortune have not captured the full picture of those people.

Example 1: Statistic or Dancer

The first story treats Harry Gegwitch as a stat; the second tries to tell his story. Is there a difference between a 'murdered man' and a 'man who was murdered' ?

CBC Winnipeg - Winnipeg breaks homicide record with 35th death
Global Winnipeg - Powwow dancer is Winnipeg's 35th homicide victim

Example 2: Hooker or Sex Worker

This one I admit I have still wrestle with, in part because I don't think 'Tilly's' experience is the norm. But then again, maybe I'm being judgemental...

Winnipeg Free Press - Cops shut Wolseley brothel
Winnipeg Free Press - A Call for Respect

Example 3: Creep or Samaritan

This is less to do with specific words, so much as the arrangement of some words and the leaving out of others. See what your reaction to the first story is, then read the second.

CTV Winnipeg - Worker charged with assault...
Winnipeg Free Press - This good deed was punished

With those examples in mind, I'm curious about your take on the story linked below. Do you think the story paints the boy as only a victim? Is it all right to say he suffered from anxiety? Thoughts?

Winnipeg Sun - Bullied boy took his own life

(the video linked in this post is from the hilarious Canadian series Slings and Arrows. So funny. One of the funniest Canadian series I've ever watched. Would that all our comedies aimed so high. Check it out)

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