Emily Timbol

Why Words Matter, The “R” Word Included.

Mar
14

This morning at work, I overheard two of my co-workers discussing a big project they developed.

Coworker one: “This is so retarded.”

Coworker two: “Well if they [the warehouse workers]  are too retarded to figure it out, that’s their problem.”

When my first co-worker used the “R”word (which he does often) I cringed, but ignored it. When the second one chimed in, I spoke up.

“Don’t say retarded.”

“Oh,” said co-worker one, “are you offended? Well, we can’t just toss out half the language just because some people get offended too easily.”

“Yeah”, said the other, “some people just need to get a thicker skin.”

I seethed. They walked over to my cube, and I said to both of them, “What if I told you I had a brother with down syndrome? Who has been called this his whole life? And it really hurts me when people use that word?”

“Well do you?” said one of them.

“No”, I said, “but that’s not the point. Just because you’re not offended doesn’t mean it’s not offensive.”

They both took turns mocking me, not listening to anything I was saying, so I just returned to facing my computer. I used it to express that anger the way I do best – on Facebook and Twitter. What resulted was a lengthy debate with a friend whose opinion I greatly value, who mostly seemed to agree that people in this society get offended too easily*.

At this point I was beyond angry. I was hurt, upset, and feeling attacked. All for daring to express my offense. People were angry with me, for being offended by their language.

In this scenario, the thing that made people the most angry, was not a word used to degrade others, but the act of being offended.

But you know what? There is nothing wrong with being offended.

I am offended when people tell me that words don’t matter.

Words absolutely do matter.

Words are what bring change. Hate. Fear. And Love. Words are what start wars, and end them. Words can both bring knowledge, and perpetuate ignorance.

I didn’t always feel this way. For most of my life, I thought like my friends and co-workers did. That nothing comes from being offended.

Then my best friend told me he was gay, and the word, “faggot” became real. It wasn’t just a word anymore. It was a dagger thrown at someone I loved, for the purpose of inflicting pain.

Then I heard all kinds of words differently. “Gay”, and “Queer”, words I used to say almost daily to express my displeasure with something, no longer seemed, “just words.” Because suddenly, they had meaning. Only, this wasn’t exactly true. They always had meaning. They just never had meaning to me. But they surely had meaning to some of the people who were around me when I carelessly used them.

Words can kill. Historically, people have used words to degrade, dehumanize, and demean people so that the murder of them is not seen as injustice. This was done to “nigger” slaves in the 1800’s, and Jews in the 20th century. Yes, guns, whips, and gas chambers are the tools that carried out these executions. But the words used to dehumanize the victims is what allowed so many people to not care, for so long.

Words still kill. Gay and Lesbian teens are five times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts. This is not because these kids don’t have “thick” enough skin. This is because there are people in this country who believe their first amendment right to say whatever they want is more important than the lives of those around them.

I’m glad that people throughout history got offended. I’m glad they didn’t just, “grow a thicker skin”, but stopped staying silent about what offended them. If it weren’t for these people, we would still have segregation, Jim Crow laws, and women who aren’t legally allowed to vote.

Just as it is my co-workers right to say whatever they want (within limits), it is my right to be offended. And I will continue to be offended when people use words for the purpose of demeaning, insulting, or attacking others. And when the “R” word is used not how it was intended, as a medical term describing impaired cognitive functioning, but as a lazily hurled insult, I have every right to be offended. And I have every right to speak up.

Words matter. As a writer, I know this. As a woman, I know this. And as someone who has the ability to look beyond my own privilege, gained by the color of my skin and socio-economic status, I know this.

I just wish my co-workers knew this as well.

I guess it’s my job to make sure they do.

 

 

 

*After I told my friend on Facebook the context of the comments made by my co-workers he apologized and agreed they were out of line.

 

 

5 Responses to Why Words Matter, The “R” Word Included.

  1. Diane Nienhuis

    Well done.
    And even then, the R still shouldn’t be used to describe people, even if they are mentally challenged. It’s never appropriate to use that word, in my opinion.

  2. Speaking up! Speaking out! Good for you, Emily — well written!

  3. Hey friend. As usual, I have some differing thoughts that I’d like to share. I’m thinking a lot about this. About being offended. I’m wondering if you can be offended and still have joy, hope, etc. in a situation. I’m thinking about MLK Jr. and how he went forward. I’m thinking about people who have mentally challenged family and friends (of which I’m one.) I’m thinking about a lot of things, and haven’t exactly landed anywhere permanent or solid.

    While watching The Event play out on Facebook, reading this blog, and thinking…some questions have come to mind that I’d like to offer. I’m quoting from your writing to help provide some context of where my thoughts are coming from/headed…

    (I don’t necessarily have answers to these…nor am I trying to “get you to the right answer”. They’re just questions.)

    1. “I just wish my co-workers knew this as well.
    I guess it’s my job to make sure they do.”
    Is it? Is it the job everyone around YOU to teach you how to live your life? Should they respect your opinion, or change their lives to suit yours?

    2. “I will continue to be offended when people use words for the purpose of demeaning, insulting, or attacking others.”
    So you’ll be offended every minute of every day of your life? Is that compatible with freedom and peace and joy that goes beyond circumstance?

    3. “…it is my right to be offended…I have every right to be offended.”
    As members of the body of Christ, who have died with Christ, do we have any rights? As people who submit our lives in full to God, and His Kingdom, do we have any rights?

    4. No quote
    As Christians, is our goal to change society, or is that a by-product? (I’m not sure what I think about this one.) Is our goal to expose people, as individuals, to God’s love through Jesus, or to get them to have “correct thinking”? Is our goal to change the law of the land? Or to make disciples, and take care of those who can’t take care of themselves or are in need of help?

    Again, these are the thoughts/questions I’m asking myself. And for the sake of transparency…I tend to lean towards the idea that I have no rights…that I give them up in my pursuit of Jesus. I tend to think defending my rights actually separates me from people I’m trying desperately to connect to.

    I also tend to think we live in a broken world, with broken people…and I expect to encounter disrespect, hurt, malice, hate, and all sorts of shitty evil. I try to think of that as the norm, and the way we live as the incredible minority, very misunderstood opposite. I also tend to think people won’t understand my way of thinking (or my way of life), at all, until they have experienced God’s radical love themselves…not a well verbalized version of it.

    Heck…Sam doesn’t get me and thinks I’m often completely off my rocker most of the time…because my choices are so illogical to him.

    Thanks for letting me share my thoughts here.

    • OK, here goes Mac!

      1.

      “I just wish my co-workers knew this as well.
      I guess it’s my job to make sure they do.”
      Is it? Is it the job everyone around YOU to teach you how to live your life? Should they respect your opinion, or change their lives to suit yours?

      What I meant by this was that the only way people are taught to change, in my experience, is through other people. That can be people they see every day at work, at home, or strangers they only encounter once. Whether it’s via the internet, school, or conversations, I do think it’s my job to learn from the people around me, and in the same way, I think it’s my job to share with others when I think there’s something they can learn. It’s not about “changing people’s opinions to mine,” it’s about being open and honest.

      2.

      “I will continue to be offended when people use words for the purpose of demeaning, insulting, or attacking others.”
      So you’ll be offended every minute of every day of your life? Is that compatible with freedom and peace and joy that goes beyond circumstance?

      I can’t help being offended, if someone says or does something offensive. I can only do something with that offense. I think that is absolutely compatible with freedom and peace and joy, as the only way to achieve freedom and peace is to work towards these things, bringing joy. There’s no offense in joy. And if I’m offended and working against it, that absolutely can bring joy.

      3.

      “…it is my right to be offended…I have every right to be offended.”
      As members of the body of Christ, who have died with Christ, do we have any rights? As people who submit our lives in full to God, and His Kingdom, do we have any rights?

      Yes, I believe we have rights, as children of God. I think more than that we have a responsibility to stand up to injustice, and to be offended when we see “the least of these” being treated poorly. I think that’s our duty, and scripture backs me up in that belief. So when I get offended by people treating others poorly, I think that’s not only my right, but my responsibility as a follower of Christ.

      4.

      As Christians, is our goal to change society, or is that a by-product? (I’m not sure what I think about this one.) Is our goal to expose people, as individuals, to God’s love through Jesus, or to get them to have “correct thinking”? Is our goal to change the law of the land? Or to make disciples, and take care of those who can’t take care of themselves or are in need of help?

      – by product
      – expose people to God’s love through Jesus, which will be all the “correct thinking” that truly matters – and form this relationship, hopefully, their character will be changed for the better
      – Our goal should not be to change the law of the land using religion, but if as individuals, we are convicted of certain injustices/actions politically, then we are free to follow our hearts. But Christ was not interested in changing laws using religion.
      – Yes

      Whew! Hope that answered everything.

    • OK, here goes Mac!

      1.

      “I just wish my co-workers knew this as well.

      I guess it’s my job to make sure they do.”

      Is it? Is it the job everyone around YOU to teach you how to live your life? Should they respect your opinion, or change their lives to suit yours?

      What I meant by this was that the only way people are taught to change, in my experience, is through other people. That can be people they see every day at work, at home, or strangers they only encounter once. Whether it’s via the internet, school, or conversations, I do think it’s my job to learn from the people around me, and in the same way, I think it’s my job to share with others when I think there’s something they can learn. It’s not about “changing people’s opinions to mine,” it’s about being open and honest.

      2.

      “I will continue to be offended when people use words for the purpose of demeaning, insulting, or attacking others.”

      So you’ll be offended every minute of every day of your life? Is that compatible with freedom and peace and joy that goes beyond circumstance?

      I can’t help being offended, if someone says or does something offensive. I can only do something with that offense. I think that is absolutely compatible with freedom and peace and joy, as the only way to achieve freedom and peace is to work towards these things, bringing joy. There’s no offense in joy. And if I’m offended and working against it, that absolutely can bring joy.

      3.

      “…it is my right to be offended…I have every right to be offended.”

      As members of the body of Christ, who have died with Christ, do we have any rights? As people who submit our lives in full to God, and His Kingdom, do we have any rights?

      Yes, I believe we have rights, as children of God. I think more than that we have a responsibility to stand up to injustice, and to be offended when we see “the least of these” being treated poorly. I think that’s our duty, and scripture backs me up in that belief. So when I get offended by people treating others poorly, I think that’s not only my right, but my responsibility as a follower of Christ.

      4.

      As Christians, is our goal to change society, or is that a by-product? (I’m not sure what I think about this one.) Is our goal to expose people, as individuals, to God’s love through Jesus, or to get them to have “correct thinking”? Is our goal to change the law of the land? Or to make disciples, and take care of those who can’t take care of themselves or are in need of help?

      – by product

      – expose people to God’s love through Jesus, which will be all the “correct thinking” that truly matters – and form this relationship, hopefully, their character will be changed for the better

      – Our goal should not be to change the law of the land using religion, but if as individuals, we are convicted of certain injustices/actions politically, then we are free to follow our hearts. But Christ was not interested in changing laws using religion.

      – Yes

      Whew! Hope that answered everything.

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