My friends come in many shapes, colors, sizes, and ages. We all met at various stages in our lives. Our careers range from Project Managers, Paralegals, Homemakers, Social Workers, Engineers, Dental Hygienists, Mechanics, Customer Service Reps., Educators, Musicians, and so so many more. We enjoy hiking, boating, fishing, animals, football, hockey, BBQs, camping, bonfires. Our absolute favorite thing to do together is to simply HAVE FUN! And I’d say we do that quite well.
However, the one thing that can ruin a good time for me is to hear one of my amazing, beautiful, intelligent friends use the “R” word (side note, I do not even like typing that word, let alone repeat it). Hearing that word is like one of them giving me a solid gut punch. For a while I would just take that punch and let it tear me up on the inside, but I wouldn’t say anything. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t want to start that conversation and stir up a lot more than I was ready for, or if it was because I didn’t want to be labeled as the “fun sucker” or “Debbie Downer”. Whatever my reasoning for staying quiet was, I’m glad I’m over it.
After a while it occurred to me that they aren’t going to know they are hurting me unless I tell them. So, I began speaking up. If one of my friends said the “R” word in conversation in front of me I would make a face and ask them if they could use a different word. Depending on the day, the topic, and the friend, sometimes they would say a quick “sorry” and jump right back into conversation. Sometimes they would have that nervous smile and say “oh yeah”. Other times my friends would catch each other saying it and say “we aren’t supposed to use that word in front of Mary.” But then there were times when it would stir off into a whole conversation about why I don’t like that word. They would say things like “you know that’s not what I mean” or my favorite “you’re just taking it the wrong way”.
These conversations used to make me feel uncomfortable. I don’t have anyone in my immediate family that has a disability so how was I going to find the words to explain why this word feels like a gut punch? How was I going to drive this home? Honestly, I’m still working it, but at least I’m trying.
The definition of the word in the dictionary is “less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual for one’s age”. I doubt that it was ever intended to be used the way that it is thrown around today. I tell them that “if everyone used this word correctly, it never would have become slang in our conversations”, it would still be more of a medical term or a diagnosis. I try to explain to them that unfortunately the “R” word is attached to an unpleasant stereotype. However it happened, it has now replaced “stupid” or “dumb” and people use it far too often for the wrong reasons. When they say “that’s not what I mean”, I ask them what exactly DO they mean?
According to the Oxford Dictionary there are 171,476 words in the English language surely they can find a replacement word, can’t they? Or when they say that I’m just taking it the wrong way. Am I? Well…. No. No I’m not. I’m taking it the way that you are intending it which is demeaning and degrading to all of the amazing individuals that I have had the privilege of working with in my career. The individuals that try so hard to overcome obstacles that life throws at them daily. Individuals with hearts as big as they come. Individuals that some days have difficulty finding any words never mind words to use to stick up for themselves. So if I’m offended that you’re calling someone “Re****ed” for doing something wrong or saying something silly, then please PLEASE tell me what way I should be taking it?
I try to keep my cool. I try to recognize those teachable moments and when I see them, I try to only stand on my soap box for a short time. Knowing my friends the way I do, I can tell you that they all have truly good hearts. I know that they didn’t mean to offend me. My friends aren’t good people… they are the GREATEST people. Each and every single one of them means the world to me. I don’t ever want to seem like I’m trying to push them away or shut them up. I just want them to know the power that THAT word holds. Maybe some of my friends will stop saying it in front of me. Maybe some of my friends will slip up and say it occasionally. But maybe, hopefully, my friends will be able to erase that word from their vocabulary altogether.
“A tongue has no bones, but it’s strong enough to break a heart.”