I'm going to make a confession here...until I had Lily, retarded was one of my favorite words. I know- that sounds incredibly insensitive. I used it not to describe people, but situations- for example- I can't believe my dog just ran under the deck to chase the cats, and she is now covered in mud. For the fifth time today. That is so retarded!
I never - EVER - thought I was taking a swipe at someone with disabilities. I never in my mind had an image of a person with Down syndrome when I used that word. Never. It was a word we grew up using - and my mom taught children with special needs for many years while I was a child. I have friends with children with special needs - I never once thought of those friends or their children when I used the word retarded. In my mind it was a synonym for stupid or inconvenient or lame. It was not a word I ever used to describe a person with disabilities.
Sooo... fast forward to today. Today I have an almost three year old with Down syndrome. There are times on medical forms when I have to check a box that says "mental retardation" in regards to my daughter. It's uncomfortable, because I don't ever think of Lily as retarded. Bright, funny, charming, engaging- those are words I would describe Lily with. Not retarded.
I am not a huge fan of political correctness. I think if we banish certain words, people are going to come up with new ones to replace them. Because that is the nature of cruel people- you might change a word, but you are not necessarily changing their hearts. If someone uses the word retard to describe Lily- if they use it on purpose in a derogatory way - I am not changing their attitude towards her by asking them to refrain from using the word retard. Because IF they called her that with malice in their heart...IF they thought of her as less-than-human and thus called her "retard" - they did so with intent. And asking them to never use that word again did not change their intention, it changed their word.
On the flip side- and this is the part that I know people do not agree with me on - if they used that word as I have in the past, to refer to a situation, but in their heart they never, ever thought of the use of that word as disparaging a person with Down syndrome - then I did not change their intent if I asked them to change the word. I changed their word.
So which is more important ? Persuading people to change a word - or persuading people that individuals with special needs have intrinsic value and worth ? Showing the world that our kids, despite whatever challenges they face, are people worthy of respect ? That they are not "less-than-human". They are beautiful, capable, and full of potential. That's the aim of my blog. To show the world who Lily is.
So where do I stand on the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign?
As a family we have stopped using the word retard or retarded since the birth of our tenth child. Not because we used it previously with the intent of disparaging people with special needs. But because we know others find it offensive, and we strive to be kind and thoughtful and above reproof in the Rice family. Do I cringe when I hear my relatives or friends use the word retarded? (Because they do.) Just being honest here - I don't. Because I know their hearts, and I know their intentions, and I don't for one second believe they are using a word they would ever describe my Lily with.
However...I'm writing this post to those who use the word without meaning to hurt - you are hurting people. Because I have many, many, MANY friends who do cringe at that word. I've read their blogposts the past three years and I don't believe they are all just on a bandwagon. I believe that when they hear that word used, they struggle to believe that their children aren't viewed as less-than-human by many in our society. And in spite of knowing that word is thrown around by uninformed or unintentionally-cruel-people, they still have a hard time hearing it. It doesn't - I'm sorry, but it really doesn't - make me cringe. But I know it does have that effect on others. And that's why we don't use it anymore.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18
And one more word about the R word. I can have grace for people who use it like I used to use it. Because I know their hearts. But Ann Coulter ? You really need to consider the effect of your words. And as much as I disagree with our current president on many issues, I have a very hard time seeing Jesus calling him a retard.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalms 19:14