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One Resolution

the r wordAs I stated in my last post, I didn’t think I was going to have any real hard-and-fast resolutions for 2014. Turns out, I think I’m going to make one. And I’m hoping you’ll make it one of yours, too.

The other day, Julie and I were discussing the number of times she hears some variation on the word “retarded” at her job, either from fellow employees or from people shopping in her store. It’s tricky, I guess, especially when it’s a customer, who has undoubtedly been told by a lying world that they are Always Right. She always tries to say something, even if it’s a simple “That’s not actually retarded.” Just enough to point out the ugliness without necessarily making a huge, “stop the day so we can argue about this” kind of a scene.

I have to admit, my first reaction was to be a little disappointed that she didn’t take a stronger stand. But when I thought about it, I realized that it might be more than I do.

I have a secret shame about that word, except of course it’s not actually a secret since I’ve written about it a number of times. My shame is in the fact that in the not-too-distant past, I was a user of that word. A frequent user, no less, and a relatively unrepentant one. I’ll always be doing penance for that, and it sometimes lends my antipathy for and advocacy against the so-called R-word an air of the convert’s zealotry.

My other R-word shame, however, is that I find myself letting it pass unremarked upon from time to time. Not at work, because one of the nice things about my job is that I mostly work with academics, and they don’t seem to be big fans of the word. If I interacted with students, I imagine it would be an entirely different story.

But I see it online from time to time, and honestly, I get tired of being That Guy. I see it in the comments on friends’ Facebook threads, spoken by people I don’t know, but while I feel disappointed in my friends for not saying anything, I also feel hesitant to say anything. I tell myself that I’m not going to hijack their page for my own sensitivities, and I say nothing.

Occasionally I’ll hear teenagers use it in conversations that I overhear, and I say nothing. “That was their private conversation,” I tell myself. “Also, I’m not the world’s dad. It’s not my job to teach someone else’s kid not to be an asshole.” So I say nothing.

But it struck me when I thought about it recently. What I’m doing by not saying anything is a form of silent consent. I let a little piece of verbal poison go out into the world because I don’t want to have an awkward conversation with a stranger, or worse, with a friend or family member. I hold myself up as some kind of New & Improved Rob because I don’t say it anymore, but every time it goes past me unremarked upon, all I’m really doing is allowing someone else to say it for me. I feel like that might be a little worse.

So there it is. That’s going to be my one real and true and solid resolution for 2014. If you say some variation of “retarded” (and that especially includes the popular hipster use of “-tard” as a cute little suffix in a made up word) and I hear it, I’m going to say something. If I read where you’ve written it, I’m going to say something. And if I see where one of your little social media buddies has said it on your page and you don’t say anything about it, I will. If you’re a stranger, I’ll say something. If you’re a friend or a family member, I’ll say something.

In 2014, I resolve to say something. Will you join me? Imagine the tiny little improvement we can make in the world with just that subtle but ever-present “Dude, ‘retarded’? Seriously?” waiting faithfully to be deployed.

Maybe, just maybe, if we spend 2014 doing more of that, we can go back to losing weight or eating more fiber or listening to more public radio in 2015. I’m willing to try if you are.

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