Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Suicide Awareness Means Compassion and Empathy, Not Language Policing

The following is a Letter to the Editor by an author who has chosen to remain anonymous; the letter has not been edited from the original submission. If you would like to submit a Letter to the Editor, you can contact the Quidditch Post at quidditchpost@gmail.com.

Dear Editor:
I’m writing in opposition to the recent push to end community-wide usage of “suicide catch.”

First, some context. My opinion on this issue has been shaped in part by my experiences with the suicide attempts of people close to me. Some of those attempts have succeeded, and my life has been profoundly affected as a result. My opinion also has been shaped by my own experiences with suicidal thoughts which occurred during many years of mental illness. I am very fortunate that those years are now well behind me. Suicide is a serious issue, and death by suicide is an immense tragedy. It is extremely important for friends of those affected in any way by suicide to respond with appropriate kindness, care, and sensitivity.
I believe the recent push to end the informal usage of “suicide catch” to be the project of, roughly speaking, two groups of people: 1) a small number of people who have been profoundly affected by suicide and who are uncomfortable with any casual use of the term as a result, and 2) individuals who have not been directly affected and want to see the term phased out for the benefit of others. Both groups seem to think that phasing out this term will help create a more welcome, open, and safe sporting community. Those are admirable goals, but I strongly disagree with their approach in this matter.
In truth, their recent campaign has made me extremely uncomfortable. In their zeal to do right, they have seriously overgeneralized the community of those affected by suicide. They have portrayed our community, perhaps inadvertently, as extremely sensitive to a term that I and many others find totally innocuous. After all, a “suicide catch” isn’t talking about the death of a friend or classmate, and everyone knows that. In so doing, they have brashly mischaracterized the deep, complex ways many of us cope with a suicide of someone close to us. Brazenly ignoring the subtle and important steps one might take to care for a friend in distress, they have instead proposed language-policing as an apparently crucial approach. And they have failed to consider that a widespread and perfectly legitimate response of someone affected by a tragedy isnot to avoid or sanitize language associated with it, but to instead command and re-appropriate that language, thereby establishing power over it rather than the reverse. It is incredibly frustrating to witness a small number of individuals assert that they know what is best for our community, that they will represent it to everyone else, and that anyone who disagrees is just ignorant, heartless, or doesn’t understand.
Now, I truly believe that there is a group of people-- however small-- whose experiences with suicide have led them to become honestly uncomfortable with the term “suicide catch.” Many of them have rightfully expressed their personal discomfort with the term and have communicated a desire to encounter it less often. And so my advice is: treat them with the kindness and consideration you would treat any friend who is deeply sensitive about a particular word or issue. If you wouldn’t want to upset them, then accommodate their wish when you interact with them. If you are a writer for QP, T8M, USQ, etc., then by all means reconsider your use of “suicide catch” with this group in mind. There is no sense in ridiculing this group; their experiences are real, and they count, even if your experiences are different.
But recently, some have gone beyond representing their own experiences and have sought to represent everyone else’s, too. They have essentially reduced the world into two groups: anyone who knows anything about suicide and therefore opposes use of “suicide catch,” and those who are ignorant or simply heartless. I will try not to replicate the mistake of those I am criticizing, so I will say this only on my own behalf, even though I am sure many others would agree: please stop. Please do not misunderstand suicide awareness as a problem that boils down to, or has really anything to do with, policing the use of one term. None of the people I’ve lost would still be with us if people said “suicide” less often, and running from the word isn’t going to make me feel any better. I don’t think it’s kind, reasonable, or suggestive of a progressive, open, and welcoming community to suppose that anyone who doesn’t use exactly your preferred language conventions has done so out of ignorance, spite, or a failure of empathy. Rather, I would suggest that you consider their perspective, experiences, and possible reasons for resisting the imposition of a new and unusual language convention.
I really do believe the proponents of phasing out “suicide catch” are well-meaning, and I commend their interest in fostering a safe and open community. Yet I find this campaign to be incredibly misguided. It is a wonderful thing to mean well. But it is even better to actually do right by a community you’re presuming to represent. To that end, I would urge everyone who’s interested in this issue to learn more about how to care for those affected by suicide. If you think community-wide language-policing is the answer, you aren’t there yet.

1 comment:

  1. I still don't feel I'm getting understood. I really don't feel anyone in this is getting understood