Jul 28 2008

Semantics

Words. They’re tricky little fuckers, aren’t they? And connotations- some words are just loaded. Navigating the sea of words these days is fraught with peril, especially on the internet.

Because on the internet, it is much harder to sense intent. Particularly when you stumble on someone’s blog and, without really knowing them, read a small sample of what they’ve written. This has led to countless misinterpretations, petty arguments, and hurt feelings.

And, apparently, has just happened here.

This is my first personal experience with someone feeling hurt by what I’ve said on my blog (or, at least, telling me about it), so I’m going to address it head-on.

I would NEVER, EVER call someone with special needs a “retard.” I used to work with people- children- with special needs, and they were just that- people. Some were fantastic and inspirational, and some were rude and bratty, and, in that way, just like any other kid. None of them was deserving of insult.

When I used the word “retard” to describe my conversational skills, I simply meant retarded. As in SLOW. I am slow when it comes to conversation and, therefore, not very good at it. I did not mean that I was “as a person with special needs when it comes to conversation.”

Here’s what I think really happened here: As parents, we are naturally protective of our kids. Often, that protectiveness becomes defensiveness, especially if we feel our children might be in any way vulnerable. And children usually are vulnerable in some way. So we react to the world as if everyone is poised to do our babies harm.

And the world can be really fucking mean.

Let’s turn this back to me for a moment (Why not? I mean- this is my blog). For a good portion of my life, I’ve had problems with my weight. I was anorexic for nearly 10 years, and the “healing process” (actually eating food again) swung me over to the other extreme. My mother (who is great in some ways, but clearly missed the memo on parental over-protectiveness) praised my appearance when I was skinny and called me fat when I was heavier. Let’s just say that I have “issues.”

Cole is big for his age; big but very healthy. I know he’s “normal, ” but my own personal issues with weight have occasionally led me to be extra defensive about how I fear other people might see him. No one has called him fat, but I’ve been upset when people have called him “big,” even though it’s true. And he’s happy to be big- it’ me that has the problem.

What I’m coming to understand is this: It is not fair to color other people’s intentions with my fear. It’s not fair to them, not fair to me, and certainly not fair to Cole.

It sounds kind of strange, but I feel like I have to let Cole have his own issues. He doesn’t need to inherit mine. Isn’t that part of life- the development of our own issues?

Those of us who have been teased know that sometimes words really can hurt more than sticks or stones, and sometimes the damage takes longer to heal than broken bones. But, as I get older, I also have come to realize that it’s our own interpretations of the words people sling at us that do the most damage. When somebody calls me fat, is it the word or how I feel about the word that actually stings? Maybe the person calling me fat was actually saying “Damn! I sure like that fine, fat ass. All the better for grabbing!” It’s my interpretation and feelings about the word fat that turn it into a bad thing. Further, my interpretation says more about me and my prejudices than the person who said the word in the first place.

Could I have titled my post better? Undoubtedly. It was a throw-away. As anyone out there with a blog knows, it’s all too easy to blast out a post and push publish without thinking too much about it. And that’s pretty much what I did. Mea culpa- totally.

What I didn’t do was intend to hurt anyone. I tend to have a very literal interpretation of words like retard, and I truly, honestly only meant slow, not differently-abled or special-needs-having, just as I would never use retard to mean stupid.

All this to say that there are enough legitimate battles out there to fight; that are worth fighting. There’s no need to fabricate any more.

2 Comments

  • By Kamice', July 29, 2008 @ 9:17 am

    I am glad you addressed this.
    I’m also not surprised to see what’s-her-name hasn’t responded.
    It’s hard to be knocked off your soap box isn’t it? But of course she’ll just think you were making all that up.
    I never thought for a minute you meant special needs.
    I make retarded bread. Does that mean it’s stupid bread?
    :P on that lady, just :P

  • By ticknart, July 29, 2008 @ 11:24 am

    The only way you would have been in the wrong is if you had called her kid a retard. You didn’t. Ever.

    Like you implied, it’s her problem, not yours.

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