"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."
I strongly disagree with that childhood stanza.
Words are powerful, and there are some that are more powerful than others.
Love. I love you. That word can make you feel special and warm, or it could make you want to head for the hills.
Hate. I hate you. That word can crush you, or it could make you realize, as a parent, you just might be doing something right.
There is another word that for me, is powerful, I will not say it and I won't tolerate it being said in my presence the "N" word. The word is so jarring and ugly, no explanation is necessary.
Hearing that word actually makes my skin crawl. I don't care who says it.
I feel the same about a host of other offensive terms used to refer to Hispanics, Jews, Asians, people of Middle Eastern descent, gays or lesbians.
Forty years ago, when Archie Bunker had a politically incorrect name for everyone, we were shocked, but we laughed. Some of us also cringed, and realized how ugly that language really was. He showed us the part of us that we needed to see.
Many of us learned. But many of us did not.
There is another word that is getting a lot of attention now, and rightfully so the "R" word.
There is an entire movement to "spread the word to end the word," which includes a Web page where over 226,500 people have pledged to "support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities."
When the words mental retardation or mentally retarded were first used, they were medical terms used to describe people with significant intellectual impairment. Since that time, the r-word has been used as slang, to indicate someone or something who is or did something stupid. People will even use it when describing something that they, themselves did.
That secondary, and very common reference, when used to apply to someone with or without a disability, is hurtful.
According to the www.r-word.org, the movement toward eliminating the "r-word" began with Special Olympics in 2004, when the organization adopted a resolution to change the words "mental retardation" to "intellectual disabilities." Special Olympics has since updated its terminology to use a "people first" approach. This means the correct usage would be an "individual with an intellectual disability" and not a "disabled individual."
As the movement gained momentum, Special Olympics launched the "www.r-word.org" website in 2008, and last year, President Barack Obama signed a bill into law that "removes the terms 'mental retardation' and 'mentally retarded' from federal health, education and labor policy and replaces them with people first language ..."
States are following suit, and several have already changed their department titles and publications and removed the term "mental retardation."
Last year in Pennsylvania, state Sen. Andy Dinniman introduced his "Words Do Matter" bill, legislation calling to strike the term from state statutes and state use. The bill was unanimously approved in the state Senate in July and has moved on to the state House of Representatives.
State Rep. Doyle Heffley has indicated his support of the bill, which has already cleared the House Human Services Committee.
I'm glad that official action is being taken toward the elimination of a word that is hurtful to many.
What makes me sad is that it actually has to take an act of Congress for some people to do the right thing, and sadder still, knowing there are too many for whom it really won't matter.