It's Not About Sensitivity, It's About Respect
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Health and Wellness

It's Not About Sensitivity, It's About Respect

Learning to abandon certain words for the sake of respect.

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It's Not About Sensitivity, It's About Respect
Courtesy of Anders Ljungberg via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Do me a favor. Think a thought without words. Go ahead — I’ll give you one minute.

Without requiring a bombardment of answers from all directions, I can confidently say that you could not do it.

You see, conjuring up a mental image doesn’t quite cut it. If you fall under the category of individuals who thought they could visualize a quick image and successfully complete the task upon my prompt, then you are not alone. The moment you thought of any particular image, you immediately identified its contents using language. None of us can help it, though. It is among our universal circumstances as human beings to rely so heavily on language.

Language provides a culturally coded framework that allows us to organize our lives and reveal our unique interpretations of reality. Without it, we can’t do much, really. We express fear, adoration, hate, frustration, and a million other emotions through the seemingly endless lexicons of the respective languages we speak. Yet, sometimes, we can’t help but feel that we are running out of words, that we have forgotten the right words to use for a specific moment.

If only we would forget to use specific words.

While we are all circumstanced with a necessity to rely on language, not all of us are circumstanced with particular mental or physical attributes. I, for one, stand comfortably at 5’3”. Despite my current sense of comfort over my height, this was not always the case.

I knew the word “midget” very well while growing up. I had heard it so often that I almost couldn’t think of myself without the word occupying space in a mental contemplation of my physique. It became part of my very being, and the hate I felt over the word — which I had connected continually to myself as an individual — manifested itself in self-hate.

Height, however, is the least of my troubles. Although comforted by aunts of mine in Cuba, who assure me that I still have time to grow, I have no problem with my stature. The fact that I am short does not give people the illusion that I am somehow incapable of performing as well as, or even better than, them on an exam. It does not make people think that I can’t process information quickly or that my specific goals in life are unattainable.

Now consider the insults “retard,” “fa--ot,” and “worthless.” I can continue this list with your help, gradually gathering an endless set of hot buttons that can make us cringe at the hate and shame they are meant to inspire.

Laugh all you want. Roll your eyes thinking, dude, it’s just a word. Remember, though, that words have the power to do a lot. The expressions above, among others, have ended, and sadly will continue to end, lives.

Just yesterday I took my sister out to eat at a restaurant, and our server, a kind young woman, blurted the expression, "This is retarded," while attempting to remove a napkin from a stack that would not release it easily. Of course, I knew she meant to express frustration over the fact that the situation in which she found herself was ridiculous, but I have the privilege of not being sensitive to the word and there's a reason for that.

At this point in my life, I am fortunate enough that none of my family members or close friends have to deal with a condition that makes it difficult for them to think, move, speak, or act in the same way that others commonly do.

I don’t mean to say that I’m fortunate because I’m lucky to not have to deal with people who have certain intellectual or physical challenges. Rather, I say fortunate because I have never had to deal with the emotional distress of seeing a loved one feel the stinging pain of a word that mocks their physicality or sense of worth.

When I handed the check back to the server, I respectfully addressed her specific choice of words, explaining that while I am not personally sensitive to the word “retarded,” I still refuse to use it and allow others to use it around me, that others may be sensitive around its usage.

I'm not here to assess punishments, but I am here to ensure some sense of accountability within my surroundings. As a human being, I know very well the desire to let loose colorful words under intense anger or frustration. What I don't know, however, is the deep-set sense of pain that is caused when a word that is meant to ridicule my reality as an individual is used. We don't get to choose our challenges, but we do get to choose what we say.

When you’re thinking, you’re using words. When you’re not thinking, it’s best to be careful and not use any.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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