Use Person-Centered Language

When we relate to others in a healthy way, we practice integrity and honor their dignity. This leads to a sense of connection and security.

Healthy relating—which includes healthy communicating, since communication is the primary way we relate—is key to preventing infighting. One way we can do this is by using what’s referred to as “person-centered” language.

The words we use can impact our perceptions, affecting others’ and our own self-concept. Counseling professionals know that referring to someone as “a schizophrenic” or “an anorexic'' or “an addict” reduces an individual to a disorder. So instead, they refer to these individuals as “someone who has schizophrenia” or “a person who has an eating disorder” or “someone who suffers from addiction.” This kind of language communicates that the individual is more than just a problem or a specific identity.

Whatever behaviors or aspects of a person we’re referring to, it’s both more accurate and more respectful (and also more strategic) to use person-centered language. Many advocates are already aware of the importance of decoupling experience from identity, which is why, for instance, we say “unhoused people” instead of “the homeless,” or “farmed animals” rather than “farm animals.”

The words we use can impact our perceptions, affecting others’ and our own self-concept.

We can apply this person-centered—or, perhaps more accurately, “being-centered”—language to other advocates as well. Not only can we avoid applying the pathologizing kinds of labels mentioned above to advocates (or anyone), but we can also avoid calling an advocate whose approach we disagree with “a pragmatist” or “a radical” and instead refer to the fact that they take a pragmatic approach, or they support more radical tactics. Such language is both more respectful and more accurate.

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