Why our language matters

Updated: Mar 18

The way we speak and the words that we choose to use every day have a profound impact on our lives.

Oh the humble frog. Happy jumping along, having a swim in the pond and chilling out. What happens if you put this wee gal into a pot of boiling water I wonder? Why she jumps out immediately.

But, what happens if you put her in an innocent looking pot of cold water, put the pot on a stove and slowly heat the water up to boiling point? She will happily sit there as the water heats, not realising how hot it is getting, then slowly boil to death (note: no frogs were harmed in this hypothetical analogy).

This speaks to the adaptable nature of creatures, humans included. When something is very subtlety changed in such a small increment that you don't even notice it, humans adapt quickly to the new change. We barely notice that there has been a change at all, and our 'normal' becomes the change. Our frog's 'normal' becomes very hot water, which she doesn't notice is close to boiling point until it is too late.

It is in our nature to not notice small incremental changes if they slowly build up over time

The language that we use every day is our 'normal'. The statements we say, the words we use, the insults we choose, they make up our day to day environment. If these words are healthy, non discriminatory and neutral, this is great. Froggy sits there happily in the pot of cold water.

Let's say we introduce a word that might not be so healthy ... let's go with 'gay'. Your straight friend says something silly, and instead of saying 'oh gosh that was silly' to them, you say 'you're so gay!' Ha ha ha, everyone's laughing, you got a good reaction, the person laughs along with you.

This first word might be temperature 1 on the stove top. Temperature 2 might be calling your friend a 'homo'. Temp 3, 'faggot'. Temp 4 could be calling someone who is transgender a 'tranny' to their face. Temp 5, writing a public Facebook post saying that gay people shouldn't be able to marry (familiar anyone?).

You get the picture. All the way up to temperatures 8, 9 & 10 (do stoves have 10 temperatures..? Maybe induction hob, who says stove these days) which could be actively bullying gay people, physical abuse then homicide.

You may have started with that innocent 'you're so gay' - cue Rainbow Youth pie video - but the other friend who heard you say it might already be at temperature 3, and your comment pushes them up to temperature 4. Your friend doesn't actively think 'Oh they said gay as an insult, that means I can call someone a tranny'. It is much more subtle than that. In fact it wouldn't even be a conscious thought. Their brain would simply absorb it and file it away until the opportunity came up, then bam, they are at temperature 4 and our frog is in more danger than she realises.

The solution? Don't even turn the stove / induction hob on

Discrimination is a continuum, and even though offensive words are at the lowest end of the continuum, it shouldn't mean that they should be any less tolerated. Because if we don't even get to temperature 1, this is going to drastically reduce the chance that our frog will get to boiling point.

So even if you are at temperature 1 yourself, I challenge you to turn off that hob and let the frog live.

Want to read more and stay up to date with how to maximise your social impact? Click here to join the squad