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Activity 3: Word Power (10 minutes), Workshop 4: The Call for Empathy

In "Heeding the Call," a Tapestry of Faith program

Materials for Activity

  • Seven Principles poster or Principles written on newsprint

Description of Activity

Participants analyze a way language influences social justice work.

Invite youth to reflect then share what comes to mind when they hear the word "illegal." Explain that many people use the term "illegal immigrants" when describing people who cross the border from Mexico into the United States. Discuss whether the Pilgrims should then also be considered "illegal immigrants" when they took possession of land that was inhabited by native peoples. Does their opinion change given that there were no written laws of native peoples prohibiting immigration? Reflect on the seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism and discuss whether there is such thing as an "illegal" human being if everyone has inherent worth and dignity. Introduce the term "undocumented immigrant." Discuss which term—"illegal immigrant" or "undocumented immigrant"—seems to best reflect the values of Unitarian Universalism. What about the word, "aliens"?

Ask participants if they can think of other social justice issues where language plays an important part. You might discuss BGLTQ rights and the difference between "gay," "homosexual," "queer" and negative words used to describe gay and lesbian people. What about "African American," "Black," "Negro" or "colored"? Are these examples the same as "undocumented" versus "illegal" immigrant? If not how do they differ? People within communities differ as to how they speak about themselves. How do you know the best terms to use?

Mention the terms "handicapped" versus "disabled" versus "differently-abled," and the difference between a "disabled person" and a person with a disability." Which one sounds more respectful? Some people would say that a phrase like "differently-abled" is just "PC"—politically correctness. What does this mean? Is changing language just something to make us feel good or does it matter how we label people? Labeling is often thought of as a negative process, but how can we talk about people in certain situations without labeling? Can using different language really reframe the discussion of volatile issues?

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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