In the Washington Post’s ‘On Faith’ blog, a panel of columnists offer their views on the Special Olympics’ campaign to discourage the use of the ‘R-word.’ [Worthy of note: The editors have headlined this collection 'Ban the R-word?" The choice of words misstates the intent of the campaign, which does not call for a ban.]
Among the commentators represented here (in alphabetical order):
Perhaps those who are “challenged” in various ways in their mental development (Aren’t we all in some way?!) may one day join together and claim the word proudly the way groups have taken formerly pejorative words like queer, Methodist, Mormon, Hoosier, and Quaker and worn the sobriquet proudly. Until that day, though, I would think we need to be sensitive to how words take on new meanings in culture and respond sympathetically to those who have the right to be called by names they feel more accurately describe them.
Through language we are teaching our children the first lessons in violence. No wonder successive generations have grown up subscribing to a “culture of violence” so that even in humor we are violent. This is both alarming and sad. There are some private attempts to correct this, but I think the problem is so extensive and deep-rooted that perhaps we need a “Language Reform Commission” to make our language more polite and inclusive. I think this would be the first major step in making this world less violent and more polite. Reacting to just one word at a time is not going to help anyone.
Changing the words we use rarely changes people’s attitudes. If a genuine change in how we treat and value mentally retarded people is what is sought, it will take more than high-handed moralizing about the use of supposedly denigrating language.
The change we need is largely internal, not linguistic.
- Susan Jacoby, author — Use insults only to insult‘
- Rambdas Lamb, ex-Hindu monk and professor — Making sure our speech is politically correct
- Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation — The intent behind the words
- Herb Silverman, president of Secular Coalition for America — Sticks and stones
- Adin Steinsaltz, founder of the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications — The strangeness of political correctness
- Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, professor at Chicago Theological Seminary — End the hypocrisy that words don’t matter
- Thomas, Cal, columnist — Mentally disabled, morally gifted