If Words Are Weapons, I Don’t Want to Be an Unwitting Warrior

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by Young Lee |

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If I’m going to wield a weapon and fight in a war, I want to be conscious of the intricacies of the weapon I’m supposed to wield. And I’d certainly want to know which side I’m fighting on.

A character in one of my favorite movies from the past decade, “Arrival,” argues, “Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”

If it’s true that language is a weapon, I’m afraid I haven’t always examined or thought critically about the “weapons” that I encounter and interact with every day — the language that affects the way I speak, write, and think. 

Sometimes I look around and feel the inequality built into the structures that make up the world around me. I’m frequently reminded that the world I live in has a high tolerance for ableism and a low tolerance for the work that empathy requires.

It’s hard to exist in such a world without picking up or internalizing some of that ableism, even unconsciously. These days, I’m questioning every aspect of the language I’ve picked up, to see if it’s indicative of something I should reject and if I’ve become an unwitting soldier for an ableist narrative.

I’m not just referring to the words people use to sow division and discord or the expletives that weigh on my mind when I hear news of people wielding them in hate. I’m also referring to the words and phrases I once thought were objective, fair, and true. 

As I work to better understand and deconstruct some of my prejudices and any ableist ideas I may have internalized, it means I’m also unpacking and reexamining a lot of words and phrases I’ve passively accepted — words and phrases I may have used when talking about my experiences with Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease. 

For example, while I may feel that words such as “disease,” “patient,” “affliction,” and “condition” are perfectly acceptable to describe my experiences with CMT, I know there are many others who disagree and reject any affiliation with such words.

I’m fairly ambivalent about person-first or identity-first language, and I don’t find it problematic if someone refers to me as either a “person with a disability” or a “disabled person.” But I know others have very strong feelings on this matter.

There was a time when I felt such distinctions were trivial. Even if that’s the case for me, if only to better understand and respect others who assert one over the other, I’m trying to remember not to let that distinction go, and to take the opportunity to listen.

The dogmatic insistence that there are only a handful of words, one correct way, to describe a multitude of perspectives based on various life experiences hampers our ability to listen and understand.

I want to be conscious of whatever narrative I may be building up or tearing down with my words. I’d like to see if I can always uplift where and when I can.

If we all want to do the same, we need to question how we use our words, when we should speak, and when we should stay silent in order to listen to others — to do the work that empathy requires of us.


Note: Charcot-Marie-Tooth News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Charcot-Marie-Tooth News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Charcot-Marie-Tooth.


Georgia Romine avatar

Georgia Romine

Very educated. Well versed. However too much ado, could have been simply written, less confusion.


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