We are the Stow Family and this is our story. Our lives are blessed by Love, Joy and Hope. Follow our sometimes interesting stories on loving our two boys, exploring parenthood, and celebrating a little extra - two parents, two boys and an extra chromosome!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Say What????

I have been thinking a lot lately about how people talk, the words and descriptions that people and I use, what’s politically correct and what’s not, and mostly – what hurts and why?

Now, firstly let me say that I was never a big fan of politically correct, and I’m also known to throw in a few swear-words for good measure every now and again (which I’m trying to curb, now that Malakai is around). So, I’m no angel… not by a long stretch.

But, since having Malakai come into my life, my ears have become much more sensitive to words such as ‘downs’, ‘retarded’, ‘disabled’ etc. But I think by far the most hurtful description used for my son is ‘they’. This word is usually used in place of ‘downs people / people with Down syndrome’, and it’s just shortened to ‘they’. For example ‘they usually don’t sleep through the night’ or ‘they are such happy children’ etc.

So, I have to ask myself why the word ‘they’ hurts so much? I have used ‘they’ to describe people from different backgrounds / ethnicities, like when I say ‘they have such beautiful hair’ of my friend who is Indian. So what’s the problem?

Well… the problem is that by saying ‘they’, the person who is speaking is separating themselves from the person being spoken about. It’s a case of ‘us and them’, a word that represents separation.

But I use ‘they’ all the time, and I do not mean it disrespectfully of the person/people I am referring to, it’s just a grouping. So, is it as bad as I think?

What I do think is that I have become more aware. I have now realized how hurtful labels are, how hurtful generalizations are, how hurtful it is when we rob someone of their individuality by lumping someone with a whole group of other people – as well intentioned as it may be.

All Indian people have beautiful hair? Really? Have I met all the Indian people on the planet? No. Can I therefore say that ‘they’ have beautiful hair? Absolutley not! Can I say that my friend, ‘So-and-So’ has beautiful hair? Yes, because I know her and think her hair is beautiful!

What’s my point, I hear you ask? Well, it’s that if I don’t want people to generalize about my child, and generalise about him as a ‘they’, then all I need to say (as nicely as possible) is, ‘Have you met every individual on the plant with Down syndrome? No? Then I would appreciate if you could refer to my child as the individual that he is. Thank you for understanding’.

And as for me – I am going to eradicate the word ‘they’ from my vocabulary in an effort to celebrate every person’s uniqueness, including my beautiful magical boy!


Beth said...

i just did a post about the langauge people use too! i totally agree. and your son is beautiful!

Lacey said...

I went through that phase about being sensitive to what people said. But it doesn't bother me anymore, I did have to get after my own kids because they heard retard from someone and started saying that. That is not acceptable in our house, but if I hear it on the street I don't freak out at people, I simply ignore it. And I worried about saying downs, but I like downs, all my kids have nicknames and this is a nickname for down syndrome, and while I always call Jax by his name, and other kids, there are sometimes I am refering to downs people in general so I say it.

Stephanie said...

I think we all learn to correct ourselves and use the language that we individually find acceptable

Lianna said...

It hurts me most when I hear the professionals (IE speech and occupational therapists, teachers and doctors) use "they". I feel a real sense of detachment from those groups when speaking about Gabriel. It worries me because these are the people who can have the most influence in his development and care outside of my husband and me.

Cathy said...

I too must admit that I wasn't as sensitive as I should have been prior to having Lily. I TRY (sometimes unsuccessfully) to not let it bother me and use it as an opportunity to educate. Unfortunately, when it has to do with our child, it's a lot harder to let it go!

Deqlan said...

what a great change to make Loren, great idea and i promise to try my best to do the same - please always pull me back into line if i every generalise again - would it be better if i said , 'kids on the autism spectrum usually....' ? bye bye 'they' Hope you all well, hugs to Kai! Love Mark Samm Deqlan Logan

Rachel Smith said...

What a perfect way to express and describe your feelings. I couldn't agree more and I too will remove labels and generalizations about any person or group of people from my conversations. Malakai is adorable and is all the things he is because he is surrounded by lots of love and 2 happy parents.