My sister is currently completing her PhD in English, which naturally comes with a chorus of "But what are you going to do with that?" from the generally unimaginative populace. Aside from all the reasons one might justifiably pursue higher education for reasons unrelated to securing future employment, she points out that we are living in an age where so much of what we do revolves around the written word on the internet that strong communication skills are more in demand than ever, thank you very much.
All of this is to say that words mean something when you use them. The words we choose and the contexts we use them in not only communicate to our fellow human beings on a basic level, they help form the very fabric of our cultures. The types of words we use regularly can speak volumes about our socio-cultural values, for better or for worse. They can also help form a painful axis of power over others, and ensure that the status quo remains intact.
Since the disastrous handling of the fallout from the first Luis Suarez affair, Liverpool have made a concerted effort to be more pro-active in addressing issues surrounding displays of prejudice in and around the club and at Anfield. Yesterday, what appeared to be a page out of an internal training handbook for stewards made the rounds on the internet, stopping many news outlets dead in their tracks due to the frankness with which Liverpool spelled out "a few words worth listening out for" that the club itself considers unacceptable for staff to use.
"This programme includes interactive workshops and a handbook," said Rishi Jain, the club's social inclusion officer, "which is designed to provide information on the latest equality legislation including information relating to what terminology is deemed as both acceptable and unacceptable. This programme of awareness enables our employees to recognise inappropriate language and take the necessary steps to ensure Anfield is free from all forms of discrimination."
While the shock value of uncensored words showing up in a training manual seems to be what many are focusing on, there is some merit to structuring at least part of the training this way. John Terry is a prime example of someone whose native language is English and still can't manage to grasp the subtleties of what might be appropriate to say to another human being, and so spelling it out quite explicitly is an excellent way to make it very clear what language is considered unacceptable. The programme is evidently meant for stewards or other staff who interface with fans and patrons, but it probably wouldn't hurt to have the existing squad and any future recruits sit down for a bit of review either.
What the list leaves out is the contextual information as to why these words are unwelcome and unacceptable at Anfield and elsewhere. Actions have consequences and there's always a bit of a gap in understanding between "If I say this, I'll be banned from the stadium" and the light bulb moment of "I shouldn't say this because it's gross and dehumanizing to another person." Stewards "listening out for" offending language helps the former situation, but only addresses the symptoms and not the cause of the behaviour. Unfortunately, the kind of cultural de-programming most of us require to even begin to move towards the latter type of understanding is likely too much content to be covered in a twenty minute Power Point presentation.
Use your words. I've heard parents in grocery stores say this to their toddlers who are unable to express themselves adequately while throwing a tantrum in aisle six, and like much advice children receive in their formative years, it remains good advice as an adult. Your words have unimaginable power. Use them for good.