Cue The Hate Mail

I've refrained from writing this for a long time now. Hot topics always push buttons, and I'm way more of a pacifist than an antagonist. In fact, I'm not even so much a pacifist. I'm more of a "fight? I don't see a fight. There's no fighting here, right? I'll just move over here" kind of girl. But then I remembered that I also don't really care what others think about me. I realized something a while back that is the most freeing thing ever. Doing things to make others happy is never going to work. If I refrain from doing that thing because those people are offended by it, then these people over here are going to be upset with me because I'm not doing that very thing I'm refraining from. It's a no-win all around. And I eventually came to the conclusion that if I'm happy with the way I'm doing things, and what I'm doing is pleasing to God, then I could really care less what anyone else thinks. (Mostly. I am human. And a woman at that. Why is it our nature to please everyone? *sigh*)

So after saying all that, I'm now going to offend a very large group of some of the best people I know.

There has been a movement to eradicate the word "retarded" from our vocabulary. I know you've heard about this, and I love you if you've taken a stand to remove that word from your everyday usage. I completely get the reason behind this movement. Anyone can get it, right? You don't have to be the parent of a mentally challenged son (or daughter) to understand that this can be incredibly hurtful to hear in everyday language. And now I'm going to anger the world and publicly say that I have not taken up the fight against a word's usage.

Way back when I was in school, the word "retard" was bandied about much the same way it is now. Yes, it's a derogatory term. Yes, it can be incredibly harsh and unkind. Yes, it can hurt deeper than any stick or stone can ever touch. But now, as the mother of a mentally challenged son, this word has lost it's power to me. While I would never call anyone a retard, I also do not correct others when I hear the word spoken.

To me, this word's meaning has changed.

It no longer means that someone has a mental handicap. It simply is a word that means someone is slow in grasping the concept at hand, or a word friends use among themselves in jest to poke fun at each other for doing stupid things. In my mind, it is no different than saying, "you're such an idiot" or "what a goofball." The word retard, in that context, holds no power in my world. It has lost it's social stigma from overuse, and has become harmless.

What does rock my boat, however, is when someone calls my son retarded. Medically, he is. Trust me, I AM AWARE OF THAT. I was keenly aware of that when Micah was born, and a well meaning family friend, who obviously just emerged from a dark cave where he'd hibernated since Medieval times, called Micah a "Mongoloid." That term has died, and should never be resurrected. It carries such a stigma with it, and a certain amount of fear of what "those people" had. Labeling someone as retarded because they are mentally challenged is just as bad as calling them a Mongoloid in my book.

Please, treat my son like you would treat anyone else. If you are his peer, joke with him and laugh at him occasionally as you say, "you're such a retard" because he does silly things. In that context, he will only know that word as it is used - something for the immature crowd to call each other in jest. But never EVER call my son retarded in reference to his disability. I will take my stand against that word's usage in the medical world, where it needs to just die. The term "mentally disabled" or "mentally challenged" is now socially acceptable. There is never reason to call him anything different.

I am simply choosing battles here. I am being realistic in knowing that you will never ban that word from dictionaries. It will always be used by the school crowd in the same jesting fashion. I am on a mission to change it's meaning, however. No longer should it mean that someone has a slower thought process. Instead, it should be listed as a synonym for "silly," just as kids intend it.

And cue the hate mail.


TUC said...

I would agree that to some people the word has lost its direct ties to people who are what used to be termed as "mentally retarded" but it is not yet as disconnected as idiot or moron or imbecile. It is definitely not as benign as "silly" and is hardly meant that way.

Oddly I don't mind the word when it is used to describe someone's actual processing because then it is not being used as an insult.

Anyway, good luck with your mission to take the stigma out of the word. I would love to see that day :-)

Cindy said...

I agree with you in many ways. I thought maybe it was because of my age; my generation heard it so much it lost it's sting. And I like the comparison to silly, goofball and idiot. Good post.