Post submitted by Erahm Christopher, an award-winning filmmaker and co-creator of TEEN TRUTH. Through TEEN TRUTH LIVE, Erahm speaks to middle school, high school, and adult audiences across North America. His presentations have motivated state legislation, improved school climates, and changed people’s lives.
Over the years I have been called many names. “Air-Ram,” “Air-rum,” and “Effram” are a just few creative interpretations of my given name, Erahm, pronounced like “Erin” but with “m” at the end. I don’t fault people for their attempts at proper pronunciation, but I make sure to correct them if they don’t get it right because I want people to know who I really am.
We’re all called names that have nothing to do with who we are. And we are all guilty of doing the same to others. Name-calling is one of the most common forms of bullying that I see when I’m on the road with TEEN TRUTH. Growing up I certainly was called many names – sometimes out of playfulness but often out of malice. I still see other students slammed with hurtful words every day when I step on a school campus.
In my opinion the sum of hateful words thrown around school campuses everywhere has increased considerably. I see a lot of people blame TV shows and films that celebrate putting down friends or strangers, but that’s never been something that concerned me as much as the fact that teens too often fail to realize the sheer power of their words. We can place blame all we like for the trend, but it’s up to each one of us to take responsibility for what comes out of our mouths. That’s why we recently partnered with Special Olympics to help end the use of the “r-word” (retard).
During my work developing our new TEEN TRUTH LIVE: PROJECT UNIFY experience, I’ve had the pleasure of working with and developing friendships with several Special Olympic athletes and partners. I have seen these courageous individuals step in front of hundreds of youth to explain first-hand how hurtful the “r-word” is to them. I will admit that I have used the “r-word” in the past, but after working with my new friends and hearing how they feel, I eliminated it from my vocabulary (unless I am describing our partnership in a presentation).
I believe that my experience with my new friends at Special Olympics helped me to THINK DIFFERENTLY about the words I choose and the impact they have on others. Now when I hear the “r-word” I think about my friends Sam, Alyssa, Danielle and Colin who have truly been scarred by this hurtful word.
We all have a right to speak our minds. I believe firmly in freedom of speech and our collective right to use our VOICES to express our TRUTHS. But I also believe that in our quest to share what we hold inside, we must choose our words carefully.
I challenge you to think about whether or not you are using words that correctly describe who people really are. Are your words authentic? Do they speak the TRUTH? Or do they just feed into hurtful stereotypes and other forms of common bullying?
Sadly, the common expression, “sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you” does not apply anymore. Words like “f*g,” “id*ot,” “b*tch,” and “r*tard” can leave a scar on someone’s spirit that will last far longer than a physical mark caused by a stick or stone.
I challenge you to think about the power of your words.
Do they help or hurt? Would you want them thrown at you? If the answer is “no” then they’re probably words you shouldn’t use.