In the legal profession, every word we write and say is scrutinized, searched for meaning and then read and reread for every possible outcome. Words are our livelihood. To lawyers, words are like the famous dress that sparked a vicious Tumblr debate earlier this year (check out the debate here and a more professional scientific explanation here). Like the dress, which can be either blue and black or gold and white depending how you look at it, the color of words change according to who sees (or hears) them and when. While what has been lovingly dubbed on the internet as “The Great Dress Debate of 2015” may seem like a trite example of the importance of perspective, it does a good job of showing how even seemingly unimportant things (like the color of an overpriced dress) can have large, unintended consequences and spark strong opinions.
The implications of this last point can be seen in statements made to date by 2016 presidential candidates. In attempting to identify with one group of constituents, candidates from both sides of the political spectrum have said things to alienate many groups of people, leading to legitimately hurt feelings and more harsh words. These words, which appear white and gold to some and black and blue to others, have only served to divide people further. These words, whether uttered in a blasé manner during a televised debate or carefully considered, infuse the general atmosphere of the political campaign with a feeling of hate and bigotry.
And so it falls to us to remind those who bandy about words without consideration of the impact that those words have on people, and to tell them that they are accountable for the words they speak. It is not our job to persuade people that the dress is one color or another, or even to rise above the debate and prove that the whole argument is really just based on a trick of the light. Rather, it is our job to carefully consider the implications of words and how they might both intentionally and inadvertently affect the people we represent as well as the people we are.
So go ahead, become part of The Great Dress Debate of 2015… just make sure you know what you’re getting into when you tell us which color you’ve chosen.