We use to have a dog, Murph. Murphy was an old yellow lab who in his younger years would get the newspaper, bring in the groceries, and sit on the neighbor’s porch. But in his older years he felt he had done his time and enjoyed the spoiled life of taking over the loveseat while giving anyone who sat on his loveseat a certain look of sad eyes and guilt so you would either move or give him permission to lay on you—which you were bound to regret.
Murph was laid-back and not much bothered him. He was great with kids, patient but also a good guard dog. He loved to cuddle and for the most part listened really well. He also loved classic rock and bacon, but those are stories for another day. The one thing that did bother him was using the words “senior” and “old” in reference to him. If you used “senior” or “old” to reference him or his food he would huff at you and look away. Then, if that didn’t get his point across, he would proceed to ignore you for hours until you corrected yourself and apologized to him. Yes he knew how to hold a grudge!
You wouldn’t think that just eliminating those words would be a problem, and it wasn’t, but it was a challenge. In reality, Murph was in his “senior” years and he was old. If you’ve ever owned a pet, you know that these words do come up in conversations and not in disrespectful ways.
So how do you have these conversations without saying those taboo words?
Instead of saying “old” or “senior” we referenced everything related as “platinum.” Murph was in his “platinum” years and ate “platinum” food. The first few times we used this substitution, he would turn and look at us almost daring us to use those taboo words, but we never did from that point on. We referenced his aging and changes in a new and positive light that made this stage of life he was now in acceptable.
Murphy had an identity, a personality and to him, being referenced as “old” or as a “senior” was an insult—he chose to not be a part of that thinking, whether it was true or not. I know, this sounds a bit extreme, considering he was a dog, but how are these emotions any different than what people feel?
Murph’s story is a friendly insight into how to approach diversity and acceptance. Reality is one thing and tends to over simply a situation, but personal choice is how people choose to align themselves—racially, ethnically, religiously, culturally, and there are many other ways that people can choose to identify themselves as well.
In order to relate to people, it is important to understand how they want to be identified and respect that no matter how they choose, you need to show them respect before you will receive their respect.