Words Matter

The following was co-written by Susan Abrams (@ihmec), CEO of Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

Professional hockey star Andrew Shaw was suspended from a playoff game because the National Hockey League recognized that words matter. His homophobic slur aimed at a referee was caught on national television, and the NHL's reaction was swift and appropriate. It sent a message to hockey players and the millions of youngsters and adults watching the game. Words matter.

Curt Schilling also learned that comments have consequences when his Facebook vitriol led to his firing from his job at ESPN. Regardless of where Schilling stands on policy, the way he chose to express himself led to the loss of his high profile job. Again, we saw that words matter.

But who will tell our candidates for president that their words matter? That's our job as citizens and voters. And, it's a job for the media. Demonization of people on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or other criteria leads to dehumanization. The notion that some are "other" is a dangerous and slippery slope. As we approach Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is appropriate to recall a fascist leader whose words in the first half of the 20th century led to the categorization as "other" of Jews and additional groups, including but not limited to Roma Sinti, Slavs, Poles, Jehovah's Witnesses, gay men, and people with disabilities. Those words led to actions and to the horrific mass murder of the Holocaust and the catastrophic losses of World War II.

Today, when we hear words that position people as outcasts and degrade them, we have an opportunity and an obligation to speak out. To take action. To be Upstanders, as opposed to bystanders.

Our words matter. And our actions do too.