Thursday, October 25, 2012
Let's Talk R's
I somehow manage to stir up drama in the most unlikely ways. Yesterday, it was because I posted a link on facebook to the open letter John Franklin Stephens wrote to Ann Coulter. The letter is a very well written explanation of why we should not be using "retard" as an insult and thinking it's a funny joke.
Along with the link, I included an anecdote about myself. When I was a kid, my friends and I thought those jokes were funny. I also had a friend whose brother had severe cerebral palsy. Believe it or not, we were all so self-centered that we would visit with this boy and then make jokes about "the short bus" not 30 minutes later. I am fortunate that this friend's mother took the time to confront us. It didn't take much. She quietly said, "Jason rides the short bus". I will never forget the hurt I saw in her eyes and heard in her voice. I was ashamed of myself, and I should've been. I instantly saw how wrong I had been. I became aware that day of how hurtful those jokes were. I wish I could say I never said anything like that again, but that's not true. My teenaged self still slipped up at times, but from that point forward, the "joke" always came with an underlying discomfort. I always remembered my friend's mom and her brother, and eventually the mindless, hurtful "jokes" lost their space in my brain and stopped coming out of my mouth.
It never occurred to me that posting this link would start any sort of drama. I was rather shocked when someone responded something to the effect of "kids need to just have thicker skin, you can't let everything get to you". I wish I could provide the exact quote, but this person chose to delete their posts. Well, I couldn't let such a comment stand, but the goal was never to make people angry, it was to educate those who still truly don't understand how hurtful the word "retard" can be. I also have multiple friends who have disabled children and I felt they deserved my support in this somewhat public forum. So I responded in as non-confrontational a manner as I could manage, pointing out that the burden is not on bullied kids and adults to get over it. The burden is on people who are being bullies to be respectful. It would be fabulous if words never hurt people, but that's not reality. Reality is that those words burrow their way into people's minds and hearts and fester, sometimes for a lifetime. Furthermore, some of the intellectually disabled people who are targeted by these "jokes" are incapable of the speech to defend themselves, or the social skills to understand why some people can be mean. It's an incredibly low blow to ridicule someone who cannot defend themselves.
I was even more shocked when this person responded to one of my friends, implying that if you just have high enough standards for kids with autism, they can perform the same as neuro-typical kids. Some children may be capable of that, but I know several who work their butts off everyday in school and speech therapy and occupational therapy and social skills practice and they just aren't there yet. Their parents are not holding them to low expectations, their parents are working hard every day to help their kids meet society's expectations. Some kids appear to be fairly typical, but teachers and coaches aren't at home every night. They don't always see how much mental work it takes for those kids to meet typical expectations. If they can get to that point, that is fabulous. If they can't or aren't there yet, it should never be assumed they or their parents just aren't trying hard enough.
I was disappointed to wake up this morning and discover these posts had been deleted (completely disjointing the conversation that had occurred). If someone has a conversation like this and feels they are right and have nothing to be ashamed of, their words should stand. If someone has a conversation like this and realizes they were perhaps too harsh or judgmental, they should offer an apology, not pretend the conversation never happened.
At the end of the day, name calling in its entirety is unnecessary. It's not as if there is no other way to make your point than calling people names. Why be hurtful for no reason at all? Is it really worth a few laughs?
I'm standing by the facebook post I made yesterday. The word "retard" is completely unnecessary, we should stop using it. The word "respect" is one we should all keep close to the forefront of our mind and strive for every day. And if ever we "regret" what we've said, a sincere apology can go a long way towards fixing our mistake.
Those are my three R's for today. We'll never be perfect, but each morning is a new day and a new chance to practice compassion for ourselves and those around us.