Hey Guys! Why every word matters.


Back in the good old days (February) I taught a live college class and introduced a new idea with “ladies and gentlemen …”  A woman came up to me after class and said, “I’m so glad you don’t say ‘Hey guys.’ I’m not a guy and I resent it when people use that phrase.”

Honestly, I dodged a bullet. I say the generic “guys” a lot. But at least now I’m aware of this and know to avoid it because it might be sensitive to somebody.

There are probably other things I say that make people cringe. I’m still learning. As society changes, the cringe-list gets longer every day. I’m not complaining about that. I’m encouraged that wrongs are being righted. I want to do my part and drive positive change however I can.

Some reading this might think that sensitivity to a common term like “guys” is an overreaction — maybe it’s going overboard? Here’s a lesson I learned that makes me know it’s not …

Not that long ago …

A few months ago I watched an episode of the excellent ESPN 30 For 30 series about the great basketball player Christian Laettner.

In 1992, Laettner had playfully perpetuated a rumor in the press that he was gay. During a big match-up against the highly-ranked LSU Tigers, the entire LSU arena started chanting “Homo! Homo!” The thunderous refrain was captured for all of history to see in this documentary.

It was astonishing to watch this video. 1992 was not that long ago but this was apparently an acceptable refrain for 15,000 people at the time. Today, if even one person uttered that phrase on a college campus they would be escorted out of the facility and probably suspended from school.

Here is what plays around in my mind: Would I have gone along with that crowd? I don’t think so — I’ve never said something like that in my life. But I also know that for some reason it seemed perfectly OK for young and old to join in on that haunting chant (and worse) that day. Would I be caught up in that moment … something I would later regret?

What about the thousands of college students who were there, screaming at the top of their lungs? They would be in their late 40s now. Would they admit being part of it? Do they feel ashamed? Have they changed their views? Come to terms with their behavior?

Watching the video had a big impact on me and my view of cultural sensitivity. It reinforces why I have to be proactive, really listen to people, and never be in a place where I could somehow hurt a person by being careless with my words, even if I might not completely understand a changing world at that moment.

The default always needs to tolerance and respect. Words matter.

Extending grace

The purpose of this little post is to add perspective.

“Hey guys” seems harmless. Maybe 30 years ago “homo” seemed harmless.

The world is convulsing with change. It’s hard to keep up — especially for me, a content creator who puts my words out there to the whole world every week.

Amazingly diverse people from 226 different countries read posts on this blog in the past 12 months. Only 36 percent of my readers are from America now. I’m communicating to every flavor of humanity. Complicated. Am I using the right words and being respectful … everywhere?

For the young people coming up and fighting for change, keep fighting with all your might. But please extend grace and understanding to those conditioned in another time, another country, or another generation. We’re all learning and growing.

You’ll be here someday, too!

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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