Throughout the course of human history, we've used words to describe things. Language is one of the most powerful tools we have to communicate with one-another. Because of this, we've learned words that have become part of our everyday speech. Overall, that's part of our progression as humans. However, some of these words have actually caused our psyche, or subconscious mind to put a certain level of importance or relevance on the subjects we use these words to describe.
Throughout my vegan journey, I've learned (and am still learning) how to change the way I talk to not only affect others I speak to, but also the way I portray things in my own mind. The first example that comes to mind is how we describe the animals that live amongst us.
For example; It's common for us to call the animals that live with us "pets". Most people use this term without any negative intentions. However, if we dig deeper into the word, it's easy to recognize the definition of superiority of us as humans, to them as animals. When I used to call my animals "pets", I never thought of myself as better or more superior to them, but I did consider myself an "owner" of them. I adopted them, I fed them, I took care of them. But, would we still use this same terminology for a child we adopted? No. We would call them our children, regardless of whether or not we birthed them or adopted them. So, why is it any different for animals?
Today, I use the words "companion animals", because that's what they are, right? They're pretty much my four-legged children. I would do anything to fight for their survival, given the opportunity. They're not here for me, they're here with me.
Another example I see a lot is labeling a cow as "beef" or "steak", or pigs as "bacon" or "pork". Obviously different parts or cuts of the animals have been labeled as such to distinguish where they came from, but they're also powerful marketing terms to create a larger cognitive dissonance for people that would otherwise shy away from eating "cow" or "pig". By using this type of language, we are disassociating from the fact that these animals were once beautiful creatures that wanted nothing more than the basic mammalalian instinct; to live.
So, who cares, right? What does it matter what we call animals? They're just words, right?
I'd like to stray away from the animals for a moment and put this in terms of humans because I feel it's more relatable. Over time, we've learned to stray away from the word "homeless" and use something like "houseless" because really anywhere someone calls "home" is there home. But, even better than that (because using the suffix -less implies someone is without something), we can use words like house-free or wanderer (or in official terms, "transient").
Another popular subject because of the recent changes in laws is the homosexual community. Most people understand the negative connotation with the word "fag", and have used words like "gay" or even more PC, "homosexual". We can obviously apply these same principles to people of different races or ethnicities, and the intention of the negative words versus the ones that simply describe someone's color or ethnic background.
Let's get back on track.
Why does any of this matter? Who cares if we call animals "pets" or "companion animals"? We all know what the terms mean, right?
Well, I think it's deeper than that.
Even if I have no bad intention in calling my furry housemates "pets", it subconsciously registers in my mind, and others I talk to, that I own my animals. By using language like this, we get in the habit of feeling superior and suggesting their lives don't matter (as much as ours). Most people, vegan or not, can say that their animals have done more for them than they do for their animals. They provide us comfort when we're sad, and maybe even give us a reason to live. I know when I was in some of my darkest days, my dog Cali was the only reason I kept going.
For me, adopting a different language to describe people and animals, has been one of the most eye-opening and rewarding parts of my growth as a human. I often catch myself using terms that may be insensitive or even offensive towards the opposing party, and correct myself whenever possible. Being more aware of the words I use has helped me be more compassionate and understanding towards all living creatures.