Free speech does not mean hate is okay

I had big plans for my first post here in a couple of weeks — lots on my mind.  Then I decided I’d just write a quick note of praise for my daughter, Eloise, who got an award today from the elementary school.  Ellie is part of a book club whose goal is to encourage kids to read 1000 books before they finish kindergarten — this being what research shows is necessary for learning to read.  Still in preschool, Ellie has completed 250 books and received a certificate from the principal, in front of the entire school.  She was bursting with pride — and so were we.

But then I sat down to the computer, and saw that a friend posted her Boston Herald column today.  In it, Lauren Beckham Falcone argues the case for eliminating the cruel, insulting word that too many people fling around carelessly.  Retard.  

Now, I’ve been guilty of using it in my life, when I was a teen — never to describe a person, but situations or behavior — and I was wrong.  I could blame youth and the culture in which I grew, where it was a common epithet.  I’d still be guilty and mean.  There’s no way to use that word without a demeaning connotation (unless you are using it in it’s intended form, which almost no one ever does, be real.)  It’s a word I’ve pretty much eradicated from my vocabulary.  Now it’s my job to teach my children that the R word is unacceptable.  (Right now they are young enough that the harshest mean word they know is the S word — stupid — which I forbid them to use.  Also the H word — hate.  And the SH — shut up.)  It’s also my job to teach them to call out anyone around them who uses it.

If only more parents agreed.

Lauren writes far more eloquently on the issue than I, so read her column.  What actually prompted my post today was her readers’ comments.  Most people were pretty peeved with her — suggesting she lighten up, get over it, stop her liberal whining.  Really, folks?

It’s disheartening to think that so many in our community could actually argue that the word is a valuable one, and using it is no big deal.  One reader actually said, sarcastically, I’m guessing, that we should stop saying “fat” since she was offended (since apparently she is fat).  Um, honey?  Go for a walk. Cut out the Snickers.  Take control of yourself, which you can change.  You weren’t born obese. 

Okay, you can’t legislate language.  I’m a huge believer in free speech.  And you can’t make cruelty illegal.   There will always be cruel people.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for change.  It’s what we’re famous for, here in the US.

Words come and go in our ever-shifting language.  I’m pretty sure we can get along without this one.

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7 thoughts on “Free speech does not mean hate is okay

  1. I totally agree. It’s tough enough having a sibling or child with special needs. I doubt that people who casually fling around the “r” word would continue to do so if a special needs child joined their family.

  2. Hey Jen:

    Great blog. Well, two days ago I was in the doctor’s office and there was a young man, maybe in his mid twenties, and on his lap he had his three year old son. They were reading books and at one point he picked up a Dr. Seuss book and began to read it. The father stumbled over the rhythmic language and said to his wife and his son: “This book is retarded”! I was so taken a back. What a word to use with a three year old on your lap. While I also am a huge fan of free speech…language matters! They way we use language greatly influences how we relate to each other. In a violent world that is so full of isolation, disunity, anger, and violence, are we surprised that people do not see that the words they choose contribute to the cultural milieu we find ourselves in? Hate starts this way. We go from “retard”, to picking on disabled folks, to isolating them, to abusing them, to exterminating them. And the same is true for others groups as well, African-Americans, Immigrants, Homosexuals, Women, etc. Language matters! Thanks for taking a stand.

  3. Great blog Jen. I didn’t bother to read the cloumn you mention. Free speech is 1 of the last things they government hasn’t taken away yet. Let everyone have a say about what they think. But don’t abuse this right to hurt others.

    Teach your kids to respect the rights of others but to stand up for their own beliefs.

    I have a choice to listen or walk away from people who abuse this gift. That’s why I didn’t read her column.

    I need to remember to be tolorante and patient with people. It only takes 1 mean word to break a heart even if said in jest.

    So remember this:

    Does it have to be said?

    Does it have to be said now?

    Does it have to be said by me?

    Think before opening your mouth.

  4. No, Dad, read her column. It’s fantastic. She’s a strong supporter of eliminating this hateful term from our vernacular — she lives it every day, with a daughter who has Down Syndrome. I didn’t mean to suggest her column was advocating free speech even if it’s hateful! Sorry!

  5. I don’t know if I’m the only one to be bothered by this, but I felt like I had to reply anyway.

    So it’s not okay to use the word retard, but it’s okay to mock the overweight and the obese? Talk about tolerance. When I read such things I’m really saddened and afraid things are not going to change. Always the same thing with eating and doing exercise, always the same blame. Yet ironically, a lot of fat people do both and eat even less than “normal” people -they hate themselves so much they would do anything to lose weight, but won’t manage to no matter how hard they try. As unfair as it sounds, it is the truth.

    You say “you weren’t born obese”. You know, nobody choses to be so and people shouldn’t -cannot- be judged and blamed so easily. You don’t know their story. And I’m not sure you want to.

    FYI, I am not obese. I have been fat though, and I wish to no one all the psychological and physical suffering I’ve been through because my appearance didn’t meet the standards. Okay, sorry for whining and bothering you with my life, I didn’t mean to… I’m very conscious there are more important problems in the world, but I disagreed about that part of your post and I had to express it. Think about it, please. Otherwise I pretty much agree with the rest of what you said. I have to admit my language is far from perfect, but I try to watch it a little bit :)

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