Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the wellspring of life.” ~Proverbs 4:23

The words we say have great impact on others.  They come from our heart.  Our heart can absorb good and bad.  Our heart can leak good and bad to the people around us.

Words have meanings.  Harsh meanings and kind meanings.  Sometimes words just have a simple definition, and people skew it up.  Add more to it then necessary.

The word retarded is an adjective.  The dictionary definition is “characterized by a slowness or limitation in intellectual understanding and awareness, emotional development, academic progress, etc.”   It describes someone.  A person.  A person who is intellectually, physically, emotionally and academically slow.

My daughter’s medical records have the term “mentally retarded” written all over them.  After she was born we were googling what Down Syndrome was and each time in the description, “mental retardation” would come up.  When people would ask “how bad she would be?”  they were really asking how slow or how retarded will she be.  We didn’t have an answer.  The word describes my daughter, but it does not define her.

After she was born, I started thinking about the word.  Started mulling it over in my head and my heart.  I never knew where I stood.  It was such a gray area for me.  I grew up in New England.  I grew up around kids using the word all the time to describe something that wasn’t working or even sometimes someone whom they didn’t like or describing something that someone had done was foolish.   I heard the word, but I didn’t really use it.  I wasn’t offended by it either.  But after our daughter was born, I wondered if I should be.

Several years before Tullie was born, Martha Beck wrote a book called Expecting Adam.  I had started looking around at some forums with families with children with DS and everyone was freaking out about this book.  The author used the word “retarded” several times.  She used it in context.  She used it correctly.  While I read it I could relate to her, and I remember how honest and raw she was about her feelings.  She was saying what I had been thinking but didn’t have enough guts to actually say in public.  The DS world got so angry with her about using the word.   There was a lot of criticism and not many kind things said about her, which I found more offensive.

Over the last few years there has been a big push to end the “R” word.  I get an unsettling feeling about that too.  The word itself isn’t bad.  It’s how people are using it.  It’s the heart.  Our hearts leak folly and sin.

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the wellspring of life.” ~Proverbs 4:23

I believe that we need to educate people on the meaning of the word retarded.  We need to tell them the real definition.  The one the doctors use.  Our society has skewed the word to be derogatory and offensive.

One day one of my kids will  ask me if their sister is retarded (and I hope that it’s because they heard the word and they want the true definition from us).  It’s going to be an innocent enough question, but if I say no to them then I’ll lying.  I cannot redefine a word, but I can give my children the true meaning.  I can tell them that their sister is slow academically, physically and cognitively, but she is smart.  Because she is slow to learn does not mean that she is not smart, it just means it takes longer.

When we use the word retarded properly and in context it isn’t offensive.  When it’s used with the intention to hurt someone and to offend it is full of offense and harm.

I decided that when someone uses the word around me I’m not going to be offended.  I’m not in charge of their heart.  

Words only have the power we give them.


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The “R” Word