We are free to express ourselves (in accordance with the law), just about any way that we choose to. I do not enjoy hearing the "R" word: "retard" and "retarded."
And I will tell you why...
As these two words are now commonly used? They are (at all times), meant as a euphemistic put-down. And the genesis of the "put-down" itself is based on disparaging a population of special needs individuals who have always been viewed as inferior to the person mouthing the words: "retard" and "retarded."
What does it mean if one's best friend is acting "retarded?" He or she is behaving like a crazy person. Or, conducting him- or herself like a whack job. Far, far afield of any recognizable vestige of that person's typical or acceptable comportment.
When a party is said to be "retarded?" That party is understood to be insane, stupid or just plain ridiculous. When a friend tells another friend to "stop being such a retard," the admonishment is targeting an unflattering or all too simple-minded behavior that is only marginally tolerable when exhibited even by "those" people -- who damn sure aren't like "us"!
When the suffix "-tard" is added on to any adjective or noun, the resulting conjunction is intended to render a word that will connote an inferior, idiotic or dumber-than-dirt, juxtaposed quantity.
As one looks more closely at the contemporary use of the words -- "retard," "retarded" and the suffix "-tard" -- the pattern that clearly starts to present is simply this: When employing this specific language, the objective is to separate and distinguish the "user" from those being "used." The user in this case, of course, is the person spewing the words: "retard," "retarded" and "-tard." Those being used are the original population of special needs individuals who served as the catalyst for this kind of disparaging vitriol in the first place. They are those kids who ride on the smaller school bus. The ones who have personal space, proximity issues. The ones who talk funny. The ones with flat faces. The ones who drool. The ones who talk to themselves. And most importantly, many of those with intellectual disabilities are defenseless to this word.
Other populations that have been used by the users have and do include: blacks, Jews, homosexuals, lesbians, Italians, Latins, the Irish and women, just to name a few.
Whenever any of these populations are denigrated or used by the users? It is wrong. And the used will take action to stop being used. But, because the casual use of the words: "retard," "retarded" and the suffix "-tard" have now become so deeply and passively ingrained in the contemporary vernacular? The insidious stigma that is perpetuated by the words indifferent application has been prosaically sanitized into a blasé "toss-off" in delivery and insensitive intent. And yet, however blithe the everyday practice of spicing up one's speech with the words "retard," "retarded" and the suffix "-tard" has become? The (presumably) unintended result is still the same. A population of people, who has never done anything to harm anyone, is circuitously targeted and suffers from a trickle-down discrimination that is very real and very painful.
There is an old saying that has been heard on playgrounds around this country for years and years. And it goes like this: "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me!"
Even those of us with the very thickest of skin, the stiffest of upper lips and the strongest of will, have been hurt deeply by malicious language spoken in caustic and barbed tongue. Words hurt. They do. They always have. And they always will.
Even for those of us who are perfectly capable of defending ourselves and self-advocating, when we have suffered a verbal assault? The wounds that some words inflict on us are sometimes almost impossible to reconcile. Now try to imagine a world where you could not use any kind of reciprocal language to object to an absorbed verbal offense, because you simply did not have the tools to form the syllables required to defend yourself?
That would stink! And it would be a really, really hard way to live your life. I do not enjoy hearing the "R" word. "Retard" and "Retarded." And in the interest of tolerance and maybe all of us trying to get along a little better? I have a very low-maintenance suggestion. Perhaps next time you feel compelled to use the words "retard," "retarded" or the suffix "-tard?" Stop. Just for a second. And see if sprinkling your language with love and compassion, doesn't lead you to discovering a new, different and possibly better way of saying the exact same thing? And I am not talking about some hippy-dippy, woo-woo, West Coast, granola eating, new age, blah, blah, blah. Okay?
All I am suggesting is that an alternative to these hurtful words might be found in a greater reliance on love, compassion and grace.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Special Olympics in conjunction with Spread the Word to End the Word awareness day on Wednesday, March 5. To find out more about the Spread the Word campaign, please visit the website. Join us in taking the pledge at R-Word.org. Read all posts in the series here.