Spread the word to end the word

A while ago I was made aware of a new campaign – Spread the word to end the word – by the awesome Andi Sligh, after reading her very thought-provoking post on The Power of Language (if you’ve never read it, please do so now, because she puts it all much more eloquently than I’ll likely manage, but feel free to stay right here for the half-baked version)

The pledge of the ‘Spread the word‘ campaign is as follows

“I pledge and 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.” 
Perhaps it’s not as striking or memorable as ‘I have a dream’ or ‘We will fight them on the beaches’ or even (as I understand it) ‘I pledge alliegance to the Flag’ but here’s the rub, this pledge is about action.   
By taking it, you’re not just publicly (or privately) declaring your alliance to a particular viewpoint (that the use of the word ‘Retard’ is a derogatory and repugnant term and should be actively combatted, as it promotes the dehumanisation of a portion of society), you’re agreeing to promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.
 There’s no way to make ‘promote’ any less verb-like than it is:

promote

 

pro·mote

[pruhmoht] 

verb (used with object), pro·mot·ed, pro·mot·ing.

1. to help or encourage to exist or flourish; further: to promote world peace.

2. to advance in rank, dignity, position, etc. ( opposed to demote ).
3. Education . to put ahead to the next higher stage or grade of a course or series of classes.
4. to aid in organizing (business undertakings).
5. to encourage the sales, acceptance, etc., of (a product), especially through advertising or other publicity.

And yet, and yet, that can be a somewhat scary thought! What does it mean?

Fortunately we don’t have to take any kind of judgemental, activist stance of those who do still spew out the r-word at regular intervals. We’re not required to tut and roll our eyes, or even to offer a gentle tirade on why such a word is reprehensible and list the reasons they should choose a new adjective for something they deem less than satisfactory.

The actions here are all positive. We get to encourage inclusion and acceptance, starting by modelling it to others with our own words and actions (and, lets face it, if we’re not in control of our own words or actions, how can we expect to master anything else?). We are called to advance in dignity which, in this case, I think means taking people (all people) seriously, and not condescending to those who have an intellectual disability. By which I think I mean, treating all others with respect, as individuals.

I don’t think this has to do with a feeling, either – you may not like someone, you may not like what they do or how they act, but that doesn’t give you a free pass to slate them. And that’s anyone, not just people with an intellectual disability – if we can’t treat one another with the respect which should be afforded from simply being human then we’re in trouble, my friend! It’s all about discipline in our behaviour, not necessarily altering our feelings.

 “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth.” – C.S. Lewis

We get to encourage acceptance, too, not of a product, but of a brand of thinking, acting and being – of the mindset of respect for one another. We’re aiming to inspire others to join the cause.

And I know that in this particular case, we’re focussed on a word which, whilst used to hurt, is often used in a throwaway, careless manner, without any real intent of inflicting hurt. Imagine what could happen if we began to pay heed to more than just this one little word. Imagine if we took care of what we let fall from our mouths, the looks we offered, the gestures we used. And imagine for one second if we applied this thought process not only to those with an intellectual disability, but to our peers; our co-workers; our elders; our youngers. What if we applied that same process to each interaction with any person, any fellow human, and first thought  

“How, in this interaction, am I going to make my respect for this person apparent?”

I have a sneaking suspicion that together, we could change the world.

So who’s with me?

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