“Is this the hill you want to die on?”

9 Aug

Earlier in this year, I got into an argument with a friend of a friend on Facebook. As you do.

Mind you, I try not to do such things. I’ve even gone as far as to take the subject at hand, and post about it on my own page so not to start a fight on a friend’s page.

But this day, I didn’t.


The friend of my friend started making up a new “tard” word. As in “this person’s so retarded that we have to come up with a new “tard” word to show just how stupid they are.” (please note – all conversation is paraphrased from memory)

I was all “Yeah, “tard” words aren’t cool, stop it.”

Friend of friend. “I can say anything I want.”

Me – “Well, as someone who has a daughter who is, to use the more outdated medical terminology, mentally retarded, I am telling you that “tard” words aren’t cool.”

Friend of friend – “OMG, I can’t believe you used the phrase “mentally retarded”, I am a teacher and we don’t use such language. I have never used the phrase “mentally retarded” in all my years of teaching!”

Me – “Da fuq?”

Yes, dudebro called me out for using “mentally retarded” after defending his use of his made up “tard” word, trying to paint me as the insensitive one. So I said something snippy and brilliant and kinda mean that I don’t recall because it’s been months. But I’ll own that I was being snippy and rude at that point.

Our friend steps in…my friend who has proclaimed their love of my daughter, who has always been super supportive, who has always shared what I written…and my friend told us to cut it out, and me basically to shut up.

My friend told me to shut up.

I may have seen a wall of white hot fire. I don’t take well to being told to shut up like that.

I was all “You have got to be kidding me.”

My friend was all “It’s my wall, people can say what they want, I won’t censor them.”

I was all “Seriously, are you kidding me?”

My friend said “Is this the hill you want our friendship to die on?”

Hmmm…let’s contemplate that hill. That hill that’s built on a slur for people with my daughter’s disability? The slur that I have been vocal about not using? That’s sort of been my platform? That I’ve written blog posts about and you have shared? Is this the hill I want to die on? Want to sacrifice our friendship on?

My first thought was “Do you not know me?”

My second thought was “No. Honestly, I will not unfriend you over this. You are my friend.” And I said this.

One or both of us may be having a bad day. I was definitely now viewing the post through a red haze of anger. The friend of a friend was at that point, offering to not use “tard” words on our friend’s page.

But as it turns out, the damage was done.

I steered clear of commenting on my friend’s social media, partially because I was angry and obviously posting in anger wasn’t working out. Then it looked like my friend took a break from social media. Summer came along and I got busy with things.

But last week, my friend posted something on Instagram. And I commented with a long-standing running joke between us.

Today, I realized that my friend has blocked me on Instagram. We are also no longer friends on Facebook.

So here I am, alone on this hill that one of us was apparently willing to let our friendship die on. I stood my ground. They walked away.

If I could go back to that day with that post, would I choose to stay silent?


Who would I be, as a mother, to allow people to use slurs based on my daughter’s disability? How is using a disability slur any different than using a racial slur or slurs against LGBTQ+? In my world there is no difference.

So yes, I guess in the long run, it’s a hill I’d die on.



Photo – me with my kids. on a hill. in Ireland. 2011





29 Responses to ““Is this the hill you want to die on?””

  1. evaglosson August 9, 2017 at 11:59 am #

    Thankfully you have friends with blanket and picnic baskets to join you on said hill. I’m sorry that you lost a friend over calling someone out on insensitive and downright offensive language. Vocabulary is hard when a phrase we’ve used our whole youth like something being gay or retarded, but as adults when we see the impact of those words — there is ZERO reason to continue using them unless we are trying to see who calls us out for using it. Ya did good. Id rather die on a hill above it all then down in the ditch.

  2. Michaela August 9, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

    You are not alone!

  3. Angel of Anthropology August 9, 2017 at 12:31 pm #

    It hurts a lot when you discover that a person who called themselves your friend for a long time, suddenly decides that they no longer support you as they had before. It hurts a lot more when that thing they no longer support is a big BIG part of your life. It throws salt on the wound when they decide on their own to block you out of their life without a word as to why or even just saying bye.

    Strange as it is, I have had a few friends who I knew in person for a very long time suddenly decide we’re not friends any more. And I usually find out by not being able to see their social media stuff any longer. One actually told me that I’m not who she thought I was when I emailed her about being blocked. This is a woman who grew up with me. Who did all the same stuff I did and sometimes came up with the ideas on her own. But suddenly I’m not who SHE thinks I am? Like you the da fuq was running through my mind. I get that people change, but it’s not like we stopped talking for a bit and then started again.

    I have had plenty of weird experiences with things since Facebook rolled around.

    Perhaps it’s for the better. Sometimes you just have to pop open that bottle of wine and offer up a toast to them while sitting on that hill looking around at the awesome view.

  4. Petra August 9, 2017 at 1:13 pm #

    I sympathize, but I must say this is a perfect example of how these communicate-by-writing methods are inadequate for relationships, and and often cause animosities that are way overblown and needless.

    Here’s what I mean. I recently had a conversation at a family party with a younger cousin, who was the host. We have always had what I consider a very congenial and pleasant relationship. I like him. He likes me.

    He was talking about going on an extended hiking trip in the mountains with some friends. As he was talking, his attitude momentarily changed, and he made a disparaging remark about Trump, and how Trump has reversed some executive orders signed by Obama to un-protect some wilderness areas. He then directed the conversation into other political areas that are volatile right now. I did not agree with much of what he was saying.

    If our conversation had happened on social media, I’m sure the words would have gotten sharp and pointed, and maybe even amounted to a “shut up” or two. And I bet that would have soured our relationship. But in person, we could see neither of us wanted to spoil our friendship, even though we disagreed. We were looking at each other. It’s hard to say mean things to someone you like when you are looking at their face. And even if you say something dismissive or unkind, often you can soften it by a kinder facial expression. And even if it gets a little heated, it can be brushed aside and somewhat repaired after a cool down period.

    But somehow words written on blogs or Facebook seem to explode with a force often not intended and hard to forget.

    For this reason I really have curtailed my participation on Facebook and friend’s blogs. It’s important to me to maintain my relationships with my real friends and loved ones. I love them. I accept them even when they don’t agree with me, because I know they are good. It would be hard for me to believe a friend would support calling a child of mine retarded to my face, but might, in their private opinions, see nothing wrong with using that term in certain contexts, even if I would never use it. They need to be free to be who they are, not controlled by my agenda. I don’t even expect that of my kids.

    So I tend to realize the media doesn’t support conversation about some very important things, and leave those things for face to face talk, not online talk.

  5. pattyspathtohealing August 9, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

    I would join you on that hill in a heart beat. I hate that all sorts of words are being used as slurs and people can’t see how they can hurt the people the actual term applies to. Not too long ago, my 9 year old son said, “that’s so gay!”, as i gawked at him and reminded him that his other mother and i are most definitely gay and he had used the word as though being gay was bad. He was mortified. Language can be so hard. And so dividing. My therapist is really into words and i have a great time with her as i look for just the right words to describe emotions. I would let a friendship die over the misuse of a word like retarded or gay, because that person may very well be showing me a side i do not wish to know.

  6. Shannon August 9, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

    There’s something very wrong with curating one’s Facebook page in a way that allows people who can’t always defend themselves to be injured​ by prejudiced language in the name of not “censoring” comments. That’s not someone that is a good friend or decent human being.

  7. Danna Waldman August 9, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    That’s not a friend. And the only person dying “on a hill” is her. You need a friend like that like you need a haemorrhoid. I’m a Jewish, queer, disabled, transwoman, and I have been faced with all kinds of stuff for a long time and traded heated words with people who are still my friends. But. Nobody tries that kind shit on me with any expectations of remaining connected to me, and they can have the shit that hits the fan because I’m gone. Hells with ’em.

  8. dannawaldman August 9, 2017 at 2:31 pm #

    Hells with her. The only person dying “on a hill” is herself. I’m a Jewish, disabled, queer transwoman. I’ve had stuff thrown in my face over the years, and I have heated words about some of them with friends from time to time. But anybody who pulls this kind of shit on me is gone. Doesn’t matter how long I’ve known them. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

  9. saracvt August 9, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

    Oh, I’m so sorry, Phoebe. I had a friend who was my BEST friend, my roommate in college (though actually we met in the same tiny town we grew up in), maid of honor at my wedding, instrumental in my husband and I’s first date. Our pact had been the first of us to get married would have the other as maid of honor, then be matron of honor at the other’s wedding. I kept my end of the deal. Never occurred to me to do anything else. You can see her in my wedding pictures, smiling widely, with no indication anything was wrong. She certainly never said anything to me.

    About a year later, I found out she’d gotten married without even introducing the guy to me, let alone inviting me to the wedding. I know she lives in Seattle, has two girls that look remarkably like her, but she’s never talked to me again. Once. I’ve occasionally posted on her Facebook page and I know she can see it, because her other friends ask what I mean, but she acts as though I’m invisible to her. As perhaps I am. I’ve begged her time and again just to tell me WHY she doesn’t talk to me anymore, but she never has responded. I called her mother, who still lives in our tiny town, to ask her if she knew. She gave me a story that I knew was patently false, but that’s what she’d been told. I never called back. That was 21 years ago. I had visions of our daughters knowing each other and being friends like their mothers were, but she doesn’t even know I have children or what their names are. Or apparently care.

    I still dream of her occasionally, and it hurt for a long time that she just cut me out of her life with no warning or explanation, but I realized recently that, despite my lingering hopes, she’ll never come back to me. And by this time, I really don’t care. My love for her has finally died.

    What I meant to say before I got caught up in telling this way-too-long story is that I’ve realized, as my husband kept telling me, people like that aren’t worth the regret. They were never really the friend you needed in the first place. And even though you may miss them for a while, time really does heal, and you’ll cease to care. And it’s her loss.

    • Phoebe August 9, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

      wow, she totally ghosted on you to the 10th degree. At least my friendship, I know what ended it…or at least paused it indefinitely.

      • saracvt August 9, 2017 at 3:06 pm #

        Yes, she did. I still don’t know why, but if she’s capable of doing something like that, do I really need her in my already-difficult life? It hurt for a long time, though; we’d been friends for 11 years at that point. My parents considered her a third daughter; I know it hurt their feelings, too. But c’est la vie.

  10. saracvt August 9, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

    And by the way, Phoebe, neither of my daughters are mentally challenged, but I should know better, being very into words. I’ve become hyper-sensitive to the “R” word and don’t allow anyone around me to use it, since reading your famous post. As well as “gay” as a pejorative. So thank you for increasing my awareness. If I’m ever lucky enough to meet her, I certainly wouldn’t want Maura to be offended.

  11. theexperiencedtraveler August 9, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

    Phoebe, I love this story because it truthfully represents how people think nowadays which isn’t good. Everyone’s filters have been shut down I guess. I got off Facebook a loooong time ago because of similar actions and realized it was like high school. Just a bunch of people. It knowing what to do or say and jumping on and bandwagon that seemed right. Honestly this is also why both my boys were homeschooled too. My oldest has Aspergers and youngest jumped two grades. Still I decided this was best. I saw quickly how you have to rally behind yourself these days because sadly your friends friend is instructing kids( which makes me slightly afraid) and your so called friend seems like they have a teenage mentality. I hate anyone using that word and I think your friend didn’t have the gall to defend even themselves for some strange reason. Chalk it up as your win because no one needs frenemies.

  12. Darcy Pennington Arnold August 9, 2017 at 4:02 pm #

    I will stand there, shoulder to shoulder, Phoebe! Sad when we find that our ‘friends’ really don’t KNOW us!

  13. Angie August 9, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

    I hate it when people show you who they are and it turns out that they’re not at all what you thought. It never stops being a heartbreak. (And if you’re me, you never stop regretting that you didn’t say every hateful thing you wanted to when you had the chance, because they deserved/needed to hear that shit.)

  14. Widdershins August 9, 2017 at 5:26 pm #

    Remember that slogan, ‘all care taken, but no responsibility’? … I think this brave new social media world epitomises that. ‘Responsibility’ is only taken when someone is caught, and even then it’s shrugged off with a version of, ‘IF I’ve offended…’ and then there’s the version your ‘friend’ delivered.

    Never doubt for an instant that it was she who killed your friendship on that hill, not you.

  15. Heather Roberts August 9, 2017 at 8:15 pm #

    I am sorry and agree defending your daughter and all children is a hill worth dying on.

  16. Marisa August 10, 2017 at 9:14 am #

    Thank you for sharing this. I need to remember to stand up for what I know is right, even if that means losing a friend. Lately (since the election), I’ve been clamming up and shutting down instead of calling people out. And at the end of the day, do I need friends who I can’t call out? The answer is no.

    • Phoebe August 10, 2017 at 10:51 am #

      I’ve been unfriended by three different people since the election, with no explanation. They just quietly unfriended me. My only thought is that I’ve been very vocal since the election and they’re more conservative.

      Ironically, every person who has unfriended me this year has stayed friends with my husband….

      • Sumyanna August 11, 2017 at 3:11 pm #

        You are not alone. I guess it’s better to die alone than to struggle to change who you are and they still wouldn’t be satisfied. They never are.

  17. teacherturnedmommyblog August 10, 2017 at 9:55 am #

    thank you for sharing this story. I believe it was a hill worth dying on. Words hurt. The fact that your friend unfriended you because you asked someone not to use a slur states that they are not your friend. Seems to me you are the one who made out in the long run, even though I know it hurt and it sucks and its not what you wanted… in the long run you maybe better off.

  18. saeforli August 10, 2017 at 7:46 pm #

    Profound… just profound. I’m currently going through something that allowed your post to resonate so deeply with me and when I read the words “Is this the hill you want our friendship to die on?”…. It hit me hard. Some hills are not only worth climbing but some things are worth letting die. I’ve never liked the idea of silencing people who are standing up for what is right. Because often times the same people that speak against censorship and support freedom of speech are the same people that tell others who stand by the principles to stop complaining and stop speaking up. They are the same people that try and silence others. I have never liked the idea of using retard as an insult either. I work in the healthcare profession and it hurts my heart to hear it. I will admit that being around a certain person, it has rubbed off on me and although I have asked them – sometimes not so politely – to not use the word, I have slipped up a few times and I’ve hted myself for it and had to reconcile with myself multiple times – recognising I am not and will never be perfect.

    Principles and integrity are important, so no matter how hard something is to go through you have to let things go…. Thank you for your post.

  19. Sumyanna August 11, 2017 at 3:09 pm #

    There are many who would stand with you. It’s better not to waste time on people who don’t care much about how you feel or who care more about the feelings of others in exclusion of yours. I think you did the right thing. Bravo.

  20. Suze August 11, 2017 at 4:12 pm #

    That is a hill worth having a friendship die upon.

  21. Courtney M. Bolton August 11, 2017 at 4:49 pm #

    I went through something similar with a friend of 20+ years after the election. She unfriended me and my husband on Facebook after I posted how upset and concerned I was about the election results and what it meant for my disabled and lgbt friends. She tried to argue with me over it! I told her I wasn’t in the frame of mind to discuss it and deleted her comments on the post. Then she got pissy about me deleting her comments. I just wasn’t in the mood to deal with it right then and rather than snap at her, I tried to take the high road and told her we would discuss in the future, after I’d had a chance to wrap my head around it.

    Instead, she unfriended me. I’m not sure exactly when, but I do know on my birthday (about 3 weeks after the election), she didn’t post a message when she’d always done so in the past, so she may have already been gone and I just hadn’t noticed.

    The point I’m trying to make is, this person decided when push came to shove, she cared more about the offensive jerk’s feelings than about you and your daughter. Her failure to recognize what this issue meant to you and to call out the jerk is telling. People who pull that “My friends can say what they want on my page” business, then fail to back up a friend who is rightfully offended, piss me off. In the long run, you’re better off without her.

  22. Runaway Nuns and Leprechauns August 14, 2017 at 10:52 am #

    We don’t know one another but I would proudly stand beside you on that hill, eating Blue Bell ice cream, as we wave good bye/riddance – to that “friendship”

  23. andthreemakesfive August 16, 2017 at 3:22 pm #

    How crazy that she dumped you like that!! I’m sorry she treated you like that. Especially since you were willing to just let it go.. “water under the bridge” as my dad used to say. Taking it to the blocking you from Facebook is really snarky and rude.

  24. anarchistwithatoddler August 28, 2017 at 10:07 pm #

    I missed this post until now but wow. That is painful on so many levels. I’m still grieving over a friendship that ended on Facebook six months ago. (Apparently I talk too much about my son’s medical stuff/disability.) I did not muddle through the red haze of anger as diplomatically as you did.

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