Today is the official Spread the Word to End the Word Day at the R-Word Campaign, which is run by the Special Olympics. Today, they ask that you take a pledge to stop using the word “retarded” in a derogatory way. I’ve shared my views on the word here on this blog, in a post called “Being Retarded”.
What’s always interesting to me is the feedback I get on this. Lots of positive responses, either from those who feel the same way, or from those who sent me messages of “Wow, I never thought about it this way. I’ve used the word before, but I’m going to stop now.”
But I also get the self-righteous, who get defensive or self-righteous about the word. And then there are those who say “It’s just a word.”
Let me explain.
I’m not campaigning to take away your constitutional right to freedom of speech. I don’t want the First Amendment appealed. I’m not asking for the word “retarded” to be made illegal. All I am doing is asking you to think before using one certain word. A word that hurts many people. A word that makes you sound less-than-intelligent. In a way, I’m helping you become more eloquent.
I’m not telling you what you can and cannot say. I’m asking you to reconsider using that word. I don’t expect to change everyone’s minds. I still have people who fling about the word “retarded” casually. I don’t go cross-eyed as I go for their jugular. I don’t shriek and howl and scream “Why don’t you just stab me in the heart while you’re at it???” I’m actually not that confrontational about it in person (that’s what this blog is for, to inform.) I’m not asking anyone to accept my views, just take people’s feelings into consideration. Which last time I checked, was one of those things that makes the world a better place.
As for the “It’s JUST a WORD!” attitude…
Yes, it is a word. It is just a word to some people, and the word that rules the lives of others. Words have power. They can make us laugh, they can make us cry. They build us up and tear us down. Think back to a point in time, where someone said something to you that was so hurtful, that to this day, you still feel the sting of those words.
As a writer, I don’t believe in the phrase “just a word”. As the former teased child, I know first hand how words can hurt, and can stay with you for years. Words can cause wounds that never quite heal, just scar over.
I know, I know. This is where someone says “Well, they only have power if you give the words the power.” But how many of us can easily deflect hurtful words? We can try, but eventually, they will crawl under your skin, leaving those scars along the way. When you’re constantly battered by certain words, they become harder to deflect. When you’re already dealing with your own uphill battle, trying to cope with the challenges life is throwing at you, having to dodge hurtful words isn’t always possible. You don’t always have the energy.
It doesn’t matter if you’re using the word “retarded” about yourself, or your car, or the automated phone system – the word usage itself still stings for those of us already a bit raw and tired from our uphill battles. When you use them against our loved one, they can literally cause pain.
To some, it will never be just a word.
So what I’m asking today is that you reconsider your word choice. If it is, as you say, “just” a word, then obviously you can easily use another word. Why get defensive about it? I’m not stealing your First Amendment right, I’m asking you – as a mother and a human being – to be more thoughtful in the words you chose.
I don’t think I’m asking too much.