Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Word Association- Retarded

I'm at a point in my life where I really despise telling other people what to do or not to do.

You make your choices- I make mine. I respect the way you choose to live your life. All I ask is that you respect the way I choose to live mine.

I grew up for so long with the mentality that there was one right way to do everything. One right way to dress, one right way to talk, one right way to choose entertainment, one right way to eat/drink. ONE. Anything that varied from this prescribed path was WRONG.

And as I have grown and become just a bit wiser- I realize that God created us all differently for a reason. Diversity is a good thing. I like decorating with black and white chevron as much as someone else loathes the pattern. I prefer jeans to a skirt as much as someone else would always choose the skirt. We go to one church- friends go to another. We choose not to drink soft drinks while someone else may love them. Places we choose to put money are places someone would would never dream of putting priority on.

We are all different-we make different choices. And that is good. The world would be boring if we were all silent clones of each other.

That is why something that used to be easy for me to write about now seems hard to describe- because in my new "wiseness" (ha)- it is sometimes difficult for me to separate the things that are good to be different and the things that are bad to be different because this whole shift in thinking has made me a little gun shy.

What I'm talking about is casually flinging the word "retarded" around in conversations to describe something "stupid, idiotic, ridiculous,"etc.

I want to say DON'T SAY IT. But then I'm afraid it sounds like I'm telling you how to live. I want to scream- IT DOESN'T RESPECT MY DAUGHTER. But then you shoot back with how you didn't mean it in relation to her it's just a word you say. I stop watching a movie in tears when I hear them write this word into the script, but they're just trying to portray a character a certain way- one that uses a certain kind of language.

But the truth is, as I grapple with how to share the way this word makes me feel without coming across like I'm telling you how to live- it all comes back to what I said in the opening paragraphs. "I respect the way you choose to live your life. All I ask is that you respect the way I choose to live mine."

A big part of my life is my daughter- who, medically speaking, is retarded. Her mind works at a slower speed because of her extra chromosome. This is not her fault. It just is. It is part of the medical description of Down syndrome. Because of this word being used in a medical setting, this word- "retarded" means something very different to my life than it might to yours.

So how do we tell good different choices versus bad different choices? When a word (like "retarded") degrades another human being- it is no longer a good different choice. When a word ceases to offer respect, it is not a good different choice. When a word portrays a certain type of life as a laughing stock- easily replacing the word "stupid"- it is no longer a good different choice.

Respect

A while back on my facebook page, I was telling a story about how Addison had taken chocolate to give her teachers at school. I went on to describe the way she wanted to snatch back the chocolate for herself as her being an "Indian Giver".

Someone commented under this story that she wasn't sure "Indian Giver" was a good choice to describe that scenario anymore.

Shocked- I googled it. Was this really a thing? Was I really offending someone by saying this? But I had said it my whole entire life! It was just a natural association in my mind. I wasn't trying to be mean or hurtful to anyone with a Native American heritage. I was just using descriptors in my story that I thought everyone perceived the same way I did.

Key word being "perceived". Turns out we all have different perceptions of everything- including word association. And if you don't association the word "retarded" with anything bad? It doesn't mean that hundreds of thousands of other people perceive it the exact same way as you. Your innocent perceptions don't make you immune from hurting other people by using it. Because we are all different- our perceptions are all different. These different perceptions can create a dynamically negative reaction to your "innocent" word.

Respect the differences.

As I finished my research on "Indian Giver", learning that it was in fact offending a large portion of people because of the negative reference to their heritage, I deleted my post and mentally erased the phrase from my vocabulary. Because it did not offer respect. I wasn't willing to sacrifice hurting someone else for the sake of (what I thought was) a good descriptor of the situation.

You might be thinking that this could be applied to everything. Where do we stop? Why do we let others control our vocabulary? SOMEONE is offended by pretty much everything. Why would we live our lives controlled by that.  We are all different- YOU SAID THIS WAS GOOD.

We need to decide which different perceptions are you seeing pink and me seeing people and which different perceptions are you seeing "innocent descriptor" and me seeing "you just called my daughter an idiot because you replaced a word that describes her condition for idiot".

That was so retarded./That was so idiotic./That was so stupid./That was so ridiculous. If you perceive all of these words to be innocent and mean the exact same thing- I ask you to consider (and respect) those who see the first sentence's use of "retarded" and immediately think of a loved one who this word might mean something extremely sensitive to them.

Words have meaning. Words have weight. What looks like a feather floating aimlessly to the ground to you might look like a sledge hammer slamming down and shattering something to someone else.

Don't be that person. Don't be that one who thinks that HIS perception is the only one- blinding ignoring the world around you. And even if you completely don't understand and think that I'm the one who thinks that HER perception is the only one...when it comes to words- would it hurt to err on the side of caution?

Respect the differences. I'm not telling you how to live. I'm asking you to respect those living a different reality than yours. It won't hurt you to not say a word. I promise. It won't.

I work to be a sensitive as possible to other's perceptions- even when I don't always understand. I change where I need to change when I see that I'm not respecting another. All I ask is that you try to do the same for me. And for my daughter. And I thank you in advance.

3.05.2014 Spread the Word to End the Word
Like peanut butter on the fingers of a curious toddler, this post is begging to be shared.

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