Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sticks & Stones

Turns out that the old childhood saying, "Sticks & stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" is really a load of crap.  Words do hurt.  What we choose to say & put out into the world is a reflection of what we believe, what we think, what we feel.  I really wish that people would choose their words a bit more thoughtfully.

I am talking about the word "retard"... or "retarded, tard, sp-ed, riding the short bus, etc."... all words that people use freely and without much thought in our culture to mean "stupid".  I know, I know... it's a free country with freedom of speech... of course you have the right to say whatever you want.  I used to say it... usually about myself, or a situation, never about another person.  But then Quinn came into our lives.  And made us start to think about what people really mean when using that word.  That the diagnosis of "mental retardation" appeared on some of the forms we have had to fill out.  The realization of what that word means in our society, or more accurately, what people really mean when they say it.

It always seems to go down this way... on a day when we are really proud of some new accomplishment or progress that Quinn has made... you hear a kid say it at the park, or a teenager on his cel phone, or a grown woman at the grocery store, or amongst your friends on Facebook.  Doesn't really matter the source.  It stings every time.  And hits hard the fact that no matter how much progress we make in our own little world, there is still a big world out there that thinks otherwise.

So we thicken our skins, toughen-up & pick our battles.  So far, when we have pointed this out to friends & family along the way, most are really thankful to have a new perspective on it.  One response we sometimes get is, "but I didn't mean it about Quinn" or "I don't think of him that way".  But here's the thing... Quinn is in a special education class.  He does learn things more slowly.  If he rode the bus to school, it would be the small one.  See where I'm going with this?  My new response is to say, "oh, did you mean one of his classmates?"

I don't have all the answers.  I am not perfect.  I am not the language police and will not hate you if you decide to use this word.  All I ask is that you take the time to think about what you are saying.  About what you really mean to say.  To think about how you would feel in our situation.  Kids can be tough with each other, but as adults I think we all have a responsibility to teach kindness in every area.  Kindness, acceptance, respect... things we all benefit from practicing every day.


Shannon Sheedy said...

Absolutely Katie! Since Quinn was born Mick & I have become so senstive to how freely words like "retard" and "spastic" are used. So many people truly don't think before speaking. I asked a woman who worked for me not to use these terms as they spilled out of her mouth (without thought) in reference to inanimate objects and other people. Another one that gets me every time is the total misuse of the word "gay". Just yesterday, I had to school my 15 year old niece on the impact of her words!
Love you XXX

K. Hernandez said...

Hi Katie,
I've been meaning to send you this link for a while now. This is the family blog for two good friends with whom Noe and I went to college.
They have 3 little girls. The oldest is a typical 5 year old, the second born is 3 and has Down syndrome and the third they adopted last year and she has cerebral palsy. Much of Ellen's blogging is devoted to advocating for special needs. She has often written about the use of the r-word and the impact is has had on her family. In light of your post I wanted to pass the link along.
I hope you are having a very merry Christmas time!!!
Lots of Love!