At your service – Choosing your words wisely may be more effective than you ever imagined.

As a CNU communications major, I study and discuss the ways people use communication to shape their world on a regular basis. The way we talk about service and the communities we are working with shape the attitude we have when we are actually serving.
For example, when working at a homeless shelter, there is a huge difference between calling someone a homeless person and a guest of the shelter. The word “homeless” is riddled with stereotypes, negative connotations and a feeling of inadequacy and failure. The word “guest” is friendly, implies being welcome and is rather positive.
Another example of choosing positive words to describe a community is the way we talk about the downtown Newport News area or Southeast community (you probably know this area as “the numbered streets”). The “numbered streets” doesn’t make me think of a thriving community where I’d want to live—it makes me think of a cold, structured neighborhood of identical housing only differing in the number on the street sign. If we are truly attempting to wrestle with these difficult social issues, we must reframe the way we talk about them.
That old saying, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a lie. Words can hurt. They can make people feel inferior, unwelcome and broken. Once something is said it can’t be taken back. It may seem innocuous to you, but your words can hurt someone or start a negative stereotype that a community won’t ever be able to shake.
We have the power to choose our words. We have the power to decide how we want to talk about people and our very own Newport News community. We need to really think about the potential negative effects the words we use have on those around us.
When you’re talking about the service you do with your friends, family or the people you are serving, think before you speak. How will what you say affect those you are at talking to? Will it help you accomplish your overall goals? Try to reframe your statements to positive comments that can uplift people rather than leave them worse off.
The words we choose to use when talking about our service shape not only our attitudes but also the way others view it. When we talk positively about our service, we are more likely to encourage others to get involved as well. With better words, we can have better attitudes, more help and more lasting
change.