By Phoenix Editor Maya Tadross ’19:
You aren’t “really OCD” for liking your clothes to be organized by color. He isn’t “so ADHD” because he fidgets in his seat. She is likely not “depressed” because of a single poor test grade. This is my biggest pet peeve. No one would call someone “diabetes” for eating too many sweets! Using mental illness diagnoses as adjectives simply diminishes the true struggles of the people who actually suffer from them. Further, this adds to the toxic stigma that keeps many people from reaching out for help, which can only lead to negative consequences like worsening symptoms, decreased functioning, isolation and too often, suicide.
To some extent, we all have the unfortunate flaw of speaking before we think, and often we even forget the deep meaning behind the words we are using. For instance, the colloquial insult “dumb” seems almost harmless on the surface. However, its original Old English denotation is “unable to speak,” and people used to falsely believe that people who could not speak were unintelligent. Therefore, by calling someone “dumb” we are not only offending one person but essentially the Deaf community as well as everyone with speech disabilities. Similarly, words like “crazy,” “lame,” “lunatic” etc. originated centuries ago to refer to people with varying disabilities and health conditions, and we are just beginning to recognize that they are derogatory to use in any capacity today. One label I find especially pejorative is the “r-word.” Although it began as a clinical description decades ago, its slang forms are used today to insult and perpetuate false negative stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities. The use of the “r-word” is downright sinister. We can view the most physically attractive people as ugly solely based on the vulgarity of their language. Words can be ugly, and using them to hurt others ironically makes us look bad in return. When we view insulting and cursing at others through this lens, suddenly doing so becomes much less appealing towards us. “You’re so stupid,” I snapped at my sister for forgetting to bring her sneakers to the playground several years ago. Immediately our younger cousin having overheard us ran to our mother, shouting, “Maya said the ‘s-word!’” Defensively I hastened after him to clarify to my mom that I hadn’t said that “s-word,” just “stupid.” But in hindsight, it shouldn’t matter which forbidden word I had said: both would have been unkind and demeaning towards her. As my parents used to tell me, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
In this chaotic world in which we are all undergoing some sort of suffering, I propose that we all simply practice being kind to one another. Expressing kindness is free, and it can make the world a little happier for everyone, so why not?
In this pursuit of being nice to others, however, we will be forced to face our greatest challenge- being kind to ourselves. It is said that everyone is his or her own worst enemy. We may not even recognize how often we engage with our own inner critic, also known as negative self-talk, or how much of an impact it can make on us. Just like external critics, our inner critics can limit our value of ourselves and therefore our potential for positive growth. According to verywellmind.com, negative self-talk can lead to limited thinking, perfectionism, feelings of depression and relationship challenges.
How many times have you insulted yourself, called yourself derogatory names or cursed at yourself? This is your inner critic. The first step towards minimizing negative self-talk is catching your inner critic by noticing when it is speaking. Some people like to give their inner critic a name like “Negative Nancy” to separate it from themselves. Observe the words of your inner critic and then try to shift your perspective on them. This process is much more easily said than done and takes a lot of practice, but its positive results are worth the effort. Imagine if all the damage caused by insults and negative-self talk could be erased. It cannot be completely eradicated, but we can prevent it for the future by choosing not to use offensive language towards others and practicing skills to minimize the impact of our inner critic on ourselves. We can make the world a happier place by being careful when choosing our words and actions. But I’m just a teenager battling my own inner critic as I write this- so what do I know?
By Phoenix Editor Maya Tadross ’19: