I am a lover of words. I am an avid reader, and a writer by nature and training. I have given lectures to students about the power of words.
Indeed, words can create immense feelings in us. Words have started and stopped wars, and have the power to invoke great feelings of love or hatred toward our fellow human beings. When used lovingly, words make us feel protected and nurtured; when used carelessly, words can make us feel vulnerable and frightened.
We live in a world where "politically correct" terminology seems to be the cause of the day. Yet, just last night, while watching "Studio 54 on the Sunset Strip," Matthew Perry says to his castmate, "Why aren't you getting this, I know you're not borderline retarded."
Almost daily, on the Trisomy 21 Board I visit, there is a post about the inappropriate use of the word "retard" or "retarded" in media, or every day life. Recently, the word "Wee-tard" was adopted to describe people who play too much Nintendo WIII.
Last week, Dakotah's teacher, whom I have a great relationship with, and whom I really like, used the phrase "That's really retarded" when describing something. She immediately corrected herself to say "that's really ridiculous" and then later apologized directly to Dakotah "because of Paige."
A few years ago, my brother-in-law was constantly using the word retard and calling people around him "tards." I adore him - he is my brother in every sense of the word. And when I told him it wasn't a word that we used around our house, he was devastated -- he never even made a connection to the word as a derogatory term. And he certainly didn't connect it to Paige.
He was embarassed and quite upset at himself.
In our house, for obvious reasons, the word retard is a "zero tolerance" word -- no one slips and uses it because no one would ever use it any way. When any of us hear it, we all bristle and take pause.
Even at the clinic for Child Development where Paige goes, "mentally retarded" is NOT allowed to be used to describe any of the children there, as there are so many negative feelings that are associated with it.
Among kids Dakotah's age, it seems as if the two words that are the most offensive, and the most widespread for insults are "retard" and "gay." Everything negative is called "gay."
I wonder at what point we will begin to understand that calling anyone a name that reflects an important part of our society in a negative fashion is not acceptable?
As I've written this post, I've considered using some of the other "hot" words that we are all so aware of - the ones that degraded people by colour, or nationality or religion. I imagine the gasps of anyone seeing those words on my blog, as those of you who know me know that they are not part of my vernacular.
Instead, what I hope is that we, the media and society as a whole will finally, finally start to gasp at the word retard. That we will not hear it on a show that has probably been through dozens of writers and script run-throughs. That our kids will not hear it on a playground. That we won't see anyone "acting retarded" on YouTube for a laugh.
The funny thing is, in my mind, its not an insult to be considered "retarded" or "gay" or "fat" or any of the other words we use to try and make ourselves feel superiour to others.
I've known many people who have had these labels thrust upon them.
Anyone who finds it impossible to see passed these labels is missing out on a huge, wonderful part of life.