What do you see when you look at a stranger? Like it or not, your mind probably supplies a label. Man or woman. Short or tall. Thin or fat. Addict. Superhero. Bossy. Angel. Snob. But what about you? What label would a stranger give you? Would it encompass all of who you are? Probably not. We both know that you are so much more than what people see on the surface.
At Redwood we talk a lot about language—especially the words we use to describe people and their situations. We’ve got to the point where we flinch a little bit when someone describes another person as “homeless”. We prefer to say that person is “experiencing homelessness”. She is not an “abused woman” or even a “victim”. She is a woman who has “experienced abuse”. The “addict” becomes someone “struggling with addiction”.
You see, when we describe someone by labelling them with a problem, they become nothing more than that problem. The effect is dehumanizing. Reductive. But an amazing thing happens with that little shift of wording. Suddenly the problem is no longer the focus. The person is. The person who might not always be homeless. The person who might rise above the abuse and make a new start. The person who might get clean. After all, wouldn’t you rather be viewed as a person, too, and not just a problem?