Nov 27, 2020 Message to Members

Alphabet Soup

Peter Parker’s uncle knew it:  he knew the importance of the ‘r’ word. Fans milling at COMICON might debate just when – or if – Uncle Ben counselled young Spiderman that “with great power comes great responsibility.”  But they would accept that in a simple comic book, Stan Lee touched upon a critical truth of human experience. And there is little which is more powerful – and requires more accountability – than language.

Let’s start with another ‘r’ word. Or let’s not, because it’s a ‘p’ word. It’s a pejorative: ‘a word or phrase which has negative connotations or that is intended to belittle or disparage’ (Merriam-Webster). In many cases, as Google instructs, pejoratives have original context. There may have been a time in our history and our learning when a word was acceptable in common use, without intentional negative meaning. But times and context change. 

The English language contains many words which we now identify as pejorative, such as the ‘i’ word(s) and the ‘m’ word. But we’ve grown up, and most of us have learned to behave with respect and to treat people with dignity. Most of us understand the other ‘p’ word: power. Words have power: it is undeniable. Mother Teresa said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” By extension, we conclude unkind words also echo, leaving their lasting mark in the shape of scars.

So, when those in positions of strength and influence wield words that harm, the damage is significant. This behaviour alienates and denigrates valuable people who deserve better. This behaviour diminishes the speaker in the eyes of those seeking the ‘l’ word: leadership.

Confucius said, “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men”. One without knowledge of people, lacking empathy and genuine care for all, is a leader of none.

Language moves and shifts. It breathes, and is organic. It can be hard to keep up with the evolution of thought and the societal shifts which manifest in speech. Perhaps one might be forgiven for speaking archaic and intellectually inappropriate words. But a leader is also a learner. If a leader misspeaks, there must be an accounting where his “apology needs to be as loud as [his] disrespect was” (Anonymous). Those in the learning community deserve no less.

Our Principals and Vice-Principals find themselves in teachable moments every day, and take these opportunities to build understanding and acceptance. This elevates all to higher ground, because that is where true leaders are found. Without capes or masks, and without comic book drama, their actions exemplify leadership.


The BC Principals' & Vice-Principals' Association is a voluntary professional association representing school leaders employed as Principals and Vice-Principals in BC's public education system. We provide our members with the professional services and supports they need to provide exemplary leadership in public education.

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