Monday, June 14, 2010

Dignity Lost, Dignity Gained

He was angry.

He was assertive.

He was entirely appropriate.

Yet he was dismissed.

Yesterday we were having a slow day. Just back from a week on the road, we weren't up to much. We headed out to spend an hour or so at the museum and then stopped for lunch. We were in the line up behind a couple with two children who were, themselves, behind a fellow, about thirty, with Down Syndrome. The man with Down Syndrome was carefully counting out the money for the cashier when one of the kids, impatient with the wait, called him a 'retard'.

His face flushed.

He gritted his teeth.

My heart stopped.

He gave the money to the cashier and waited for the change. She looked mortified. The parents stood there, their silence approved of their child's statement. They were, like their children in an HURRY FOR GOD SAKE. After the change had been carefully tucked away in his wallet he turned to the child who had called him a name. I could see him working up the will to say something. Then he did.

'I don't like to be called names. That is a very bad word. You shouldn't call people names like that.'

They ignored him.

Simply ignored him.

He picked up his tray and went on his way, walking with as much dignity as he could muster. After he was gone the mother turned to me, sitting in my wheelchair with a look of either disgust or disapproval on my face - they look similar. She said, defensively, 'He doesn't understand, it doesn't mean anything.'

I simply said, 'Trouble is, you won't admit that it does.'

She tried to say something more and I simply put up my hand signalling her to stop, I had no desire to have this conversation. They paid and left. Walking with as much dignity as they could muster.

Which wasn't much.


The Untoward Lady said...

Isn't it interesting how easily those who would wield hatred would fall on their sword when confronted with courage?

Andrea S. said...

So, hang on.

The man her children insulted specifically tells them it's not a nice thing to say. If that is not a pretty darn obvious signal that he did, in fact, understand the insult better than they did, I don't know what is.

And the mother still wants to persuade herself that he didn't understand? What world is she living in?

Denial -- not just a river in Egypt, as they say.

Anonymous said...

No I think what the mom was saying was that her child was to young to understand what that word means. Because clearly she was uncomfortable and wanted dave in someway to make her feel better about her child's remark.

Btw that whole thing makes my stomach hurt and unfortunately I have been in that situation myself.Simply because the way I walk is different then everyone else.
Bravo to the guy for standing up for himself. I'm not always sure what to say.

FridaWrites said...

I am furious reading what they said.

And if I started calling women I don't like by the b word or c word and people with different skin colors by racial epithets, I guess that would be okay too, right? That's what I ask people, whether they use sexist or racist terms too. Truth is, they probably wouldn't use those words because they are relatively likely to see people in those groups as people.

rickismom said...

So nice that the young man stood up for himself, calmly. He had a good teacher, I bet....

Moose said...

What a jerk. I'm never sure which is worse, the parents who ignore their child's words or the ones who try to explain it away. It's never too early to say, "We do not use this word, it is not a nice word." Good for the young man for standing up for himself.

I do not like the idea of banning the word "retard" from all use, because it can be used for hate. This is [in my unhumble opinion] as foolish as banning the word "gay" because teens have been using it to mean "stupid." Ban the use of it as hate speech against another being. Otherwise, what are we going to do, redact hundreds of years of sheet music?

Anonymous said...

I personally hate the use of the "R" word in all forms - and I disagree with the above poster; I would have no problem with it being banned! Every time I hear the word, it makes me stop for a minute and try and process how that word can still be in use today?

Working as a psychologist, I often hear people using it as if it were a diagnosis "the individual is retarded" - what is wrong with pointing out their IQ - the person has a low IQ? I find this more acceptable. Also I find that when a professional can use the "R" word - they are likely to only focus on the weaknesses of the individual - whenever I give a diagnosis/ assessment - I try and focus on the strengths!!

Anonymous said...

The "r" word seems to be getting more and more used, and possibly encouraged in societies built entirely on Money.

Injured and Differently enabled people and the unemployed are more and more being used as targets, stock, costs to the system,drain on resources, not worth keeping alive. get rid of them quick.
Almost a crusade against "lesser" persons.

YET I say NEVER underestimate anybody, through that I have met some great people, been taught some great lessons and hopefully gained a far happier outlook on life.
Denigrate nobody listen to everybody and try to be as independent as you possibly can.

I imagine those living in derision and even fear of us must have damned miserable narrow and unpleasant life.

I am trying to write up a coherent, hopefully interesting post and maybe this event will help me tune it nicely.

Or maybe I'll just wander down to the Disabled Art Group gathering and have really good Non Judgmental company for the day.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, having commented I just looked at todays NZ internet poll Should New Zealand be more receptive to other cultures /religious protocols 2263 votes since 14th June 2010
yes- as multicultural NZ we should respect others' values 606 votes 27%
No- if people want to live in NZ they should follow NZ rules 71% 1609 votes don't care 27 votes don't know
21 votes.

http// results.php?poll_id=54747&wv=1

To me I wonder where one reads NZ rules, who wrote them,and maybe a generally pretty sad reflection on NZ so called society

Anonymous said...

I was raised in a home where you would never dare utter that word. Thankfully, my parents saw the word as the ultimate in disrespect and explained the history of the word to us very early on. At the time, I had no idea that this word would continue to echo throughout our lives, but a number of years later the arrival of my youngest sister would re-introduce us to the word. She is a truly delightful young woman who is completely blind and somedays takes experiencing Autism to new heights. I can recall each and every time I have heard that word in relation to her. It stuns me because they'll never ever get to the know the wonderfulness that is this tremendous lady. They'll spend their lives thinking she is less than when they could never hope to be as much as who she is. There are the folks who you try to shrug off b/c you hope they didn't know any better. There are the kids who ask you if she is that word. You try not to discourage them from asking questions, but years later I still flinch. The list of ways that this word is used is lengthy as anyone here knows. However, I have encountered something new and am both perplexed and troubled by it. Despite being sisters who adore each other and adults now, we can still argue. Yes, our arguments are a bit different than others, but I was never prepared for what happened recently. My sister turned to me and very clearly told me that I was "ret@rded". To be honest, I was thrilled at first. We fought hard to support her with speaking and she chose words instead of physical actions. Then, I was devastated b/c my parents did a great job teaching us about the word, but we didn't teach her about it, we just tried to shelter her from it. In discussing this, the issues around the word just grow. Some people think that the word should be reclaimed/embraced by the population it described, like other cultural slurs have been. I can't fathom the rationale behind this. All I can think now is that if I work dilligently to find ways to explain to her how bad this term is and why we shouldn't use it, she'll be even more crushed the next time she's called it. To shelter or to prepare, a constant balancing act. I know this post is far too long, but surely something has to be done about the usage of this word.

Mark Pathak said...

'Trouble is, you won't admit that it does.'

What a great response!!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Bravo for that young man! I hope that my son has the courage to speak up to people when he grows up, too.

Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D., Instructor said...

In that little gap of time between the kid's comment and the man giving his money to the cashier, had I been the Mom, I would have snatched that kid bald-headed (figuratively speaking, of course).

The kid obviously "meant it", otherwise he would not have chosen to use that particular word at that instant against that particular person as an insult.

Which the victim, obviously, understood perfectly.

What is wrong with parents these days? Who doesn't understand? What doesn't mean anything? Hunh??

Sue K said...

That is sadly such a common scene. I work in an agency with folks that have various disabilities, although they primarily are all diagnosed with mental retardation. Just saying that makes my stomach tighten and I feel like a horrible person. I was taught from an early age that the "r" word (which I was at last week & it was awesome btw) is a word that is hurtful, but also throws up a flag that the user is clearly someone I would not want to know. I DO correct people though. I wish I was as patient as the gentleman in your story, but I am not. I hope that I can take away the dignity of the user the next time I hear the word, which I hope NEVER happens, but let's be realistic. I think that is much better than an angry "didn't your mother teach you any manners?" Thanks for sharing.

Moose said...

Ok, to the people who are having hissy fits about the use of the word "retard": Please try to step back and look at this from a rational point of view, without your emotions.

While it is in modern times used as rude slang for people with mental and/or developmental problems and delays, it is been in use in the English language far longer than the term "mental retardation" and like terms, where the pejorative came from.

It is normal to "retard" a mechanical device, to slow it down. More traditionally, open any piece of sheet music, especially a classical piece, and you will find places where the composer wanted the tempo of the music to slow down. The term that will be used there is "retard", because that is a true definition of the word, to slow something down. Do you really suggest going through hundreds of years old sheet music and redacting it because a word in it is currently misused?

When you start banning words because they are currently being misused you start down the slippery slope of deciding what words are "good" and "bad." Kids today use "gay" to mean "stupid." Once upon a time "gay" meant happy; now it means homosexual. Some disabled people dislike the term "cripple", but it has other meanings and is not just a (potentially) cruel word.

Some slurs and rude words have no other meaning, especially most of the racial terms. Removing them is not the same [and is better done].

Having a knee-jerk reaction to what you perceive as a "bad word" doesn't help anyone. The word "retard" is not a bad word, but it can be used badly. The difference is enormous. Please have the intelligence to understand the difference.

Anonymous said...

Wow....just goes to show....we can teach, we can preach, but until people are willing to change it just isn't going to happen.

Perhaps we should remember, when we are teaching individuals with varying abilities about self-advocacy, that some people just won't get it, despite all of our efforts.

Really classy response Dave!