Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Word Power and a Plea for Thoughtfulness

A while back the phrase of the day to describe something distasteful, weak, or out-of-style was "that's so gay." A movement started to stop people, especially kids, from saying this, asking them to think and realize that by saying such a thing, they were equating gay people to something worthless and distasteful, something gay people hardly needed more of in their ears and thoughts.

On Monday night, Ann Coulter tweeted the following: "I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard." By calling the President of our United States a "retard," she quite understandably ticked some people off, most notably John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics athlete and global messenger who happens to have Down Syndrome.  His response to Ms. Coulter is respectful, brief, and profound and I strongly suggest you read it now.

In addition to using words like "retard(ed)" and "gay" to insult people, I have another personal pet peeve in the word "fit" to describe an epileptic seizure.  Yes, it's still described that way in the Merriam Webster dictionary.  But there is so much cultural context behind the cold, mathematical meaning we read when we look words up.  To me, a 'fit" is something a three-year-old might throw in the middle of Target's toy aisle when his weary parents refuse to buy him another toy.  It's an irrational, over-the-top, chosen pattern of behavior.  A seizure or paroxysm is not chosen.

We call people all sorts of unbelievable ugly names throughout our days, especially our bad days, or at least during bad traffic.  Do I really think that driver that pulled in front of me just a tiny bit too closely to me is an "idiot" or an "asshole?"  Or maybe if I take a breath I can analyze a bit more, like Mr. Stephens did, and think of other reasons why it might have happened.  For all I know that driver just got fired.  Or is on his way to a hospital for an emergency.

It's not easy and I'll never achieve perfection in this area, but I will be more responsible for the words that come out of my mouth - even - especially - the words their targets never hear.  It is better for my own attitude and helps other people's ugly words roll off my own back too.

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