by Ross Muscato
"From the moment a child begins to speak, he is taught to respect the word; he is taught how to use the word and how not to use it. The word is all-powerful, because it can build a man up, but it can also tear him down. That's how powerful it is. So a child is taught to use words tenderly and never against anyone; a child is told never to take anyone's name or reputation in vain."
-HENRY OLD COYOTE, Crow Tribe Author, excerpt from Respect for Life
Earlier this week I saw a story on Easton Patch about how a student group at Stonehill College, on Monday, November 14, launched a week-long initiative - which is part of an international campaign called "Spread the Word to End the Word" - to end the use of the word "retard' and "retarded."
The Stonehill chapter of Best Buddies - a global organization that "creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities" - is the Stonehill group working on campus to have the "R" word identified as hate speech; it is also providing people the opportunity to sign on to this pledge: "I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities."
I say good job, Stonehill College Best Buddies. Get rid of the "R-word."
We are taught, or at least we should be taught, early in life that words carry with them a lot of power. Yet even for those of us who have the best childhood mentors, and who learn this lesson early on, many don't heed the lesson, or remember it and don't care, and casually and irresponsibly throw around words.
My mother, in action and in teaching, impressed on her children the power of words and their impact. She read to us frequently; among my favorite texts my mom read to me was William Wadsworth Longellow's poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. She also read to me Edgar Allen Poe's haunting poem Annabelle Lee - and when I think about becoming acquainted early on with this Poe poem, I wonder if it may explain and make sense of some things in my life.
My mother detested the words "idiot" and "idiotic." She scolded us if we used these words, and she told us that they were clinical words, and they described those with a developmental disability.
A funny thing, my mother was so sensitive to words that when we took in a cat that only had three legs, and my sister and I gave him the name, "Tripod," my mom protested, saying that the name called attention to the cat's disability. She called the cat "Purry."
(A little aside here - my father adored Tripod and his tough disposition, and how he moved swiftly on three legs. I think my dad thought Tripod was a competitor - and there were few types my father admired more than competitors.)
Let me weigh in here on a noun and adjectives, descriptors that are inaccurately applied - at least in my mind.
I'm talking about the words "hero" and "heroic" and "heroism."
Almost nothing anyone does in an athletic arena or a sound stage or in a music hall or an auditorium or on a movie set is heroic.
Here is my definition of a hero: someone who knowingly and willingly risks his or her life, or grievous emotional or physical injury, in the commission of a noble and just act.
Heroes can be found in many segments of our population - among the best demographics to search for them are our armed forces and our first responders.
Having defined the word thus, and to put things in perspective, Tom Brady is not a hero. Nothing he has done is heroic or are acts of heroism. That's not to say that Mr. Brady does not have in him the stuff of a hero, or that one day he may not act heroically.
Tom Brady is, though, one of the most poised and fierce competitors, skilled athletes, and greatest winners in sports history.
Athletes can act heroically in the athletic arena, but the episodes are very rare - and they have little to do with speed, strength, quickness, or agility.
Examples of heroism in sports include Major League players Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron. When Jackie Robinson was breaking the color barrier in Major League baseball, he received death threats. He took the field anyway.
When Hank Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, he received death threats - and Mr. Aaron took the field anyway.
We're entering the holiday season - a segment of the year rich with all the right and soul-uplifting words: e.g. hope, love, joy, miracles, salvation, and giving.
Let's get all wrapped up in these words. Let's promote and exalt these words.
And let's toss and stomp down the "R-word" and other nasty and negative ones.