The Power of Language

If you missed the radio interview in which Kevin participated last night, you can still listen to it by going to  On the right side of the home page, there is a box labeled “Recent Shows;” click on the show entitled “The R-word” dated January 20.

Kevin and Nic (eldest son of Monica of Monkey Musings) did a fabulous job with the interview, talking about their own personal experiences having a sibling with Down syndrome, how that has impacted them and how they see the world, and how it has made them very conscious of the concept of tolerance.  I’m very, very proud of both boys.  It takes a lot of chutzpah for anyone to speak out and stand up for what they believe in – let alone to do so and be an adolescent, risking alienation and ridicule by one’s peers.

It is extremely disheartening how prevalent words like “retard” and “retarded” still are, despite the current movement to do away with such language.  And while it might not be so surprising to hear epithets like these on the playground and in the halls of middle- and high-schools, it’s worth noting that these words fly thoughtlessly from the mouths of adults as well.  Parents.  Educated, professional people.  Politicians.  Teachers.  Even early intervention therapists.  It’s just so easy to slap the label of “retarded” onto anything viewed as substandard, annoying, ridiculous, or distasteful.  What people who use this language don’t seem to get, though, is that in so using such labels, they are in effect comparing things, events, people, or ideas which they personally find to be substandard, annoying, ridiculous, or distasteful to a whole class of people who are different by mere virtue of a medical diagnosis and differing abilities.  They are, in effect, calling these people – real, actual, living, feeling people! – substandard, annoying, ridiculous, or distasteful.  And it hurts – it hurts the people with differing abilities, and it hurts the people who love them.

It’s not just “retard” and “retarded” though.  There are so many words the fly around that disparage whole groups of people.  Gay.  Lame.  Idiot.  Moron.  Those are just a few very common, very popular ones.  Words that even a lot of people who despise and speak out against the R-word think nothing of.  Maybe I’m just too sensitive, too aware, I don’t know.  I just know that I want my kids to grow up in a world where nobody is put down and marginalized because of race, philosophical orientation, sexual orientation, or ability level.  A world where every human being, no matter size, shape, or color, is valued.  If people as a whole are valued, truly valued, the language will follow.  That’s what I think.

Kudos to Kevin and Nic for standing up and speaking out.

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