Do words hurt? Do words have power over us? This is a debatable topic, even among those in the personal development field. I have a great story about an old fear of mine, as well as a short analysis on American society that illustrates my thoughts on this topic.
Everybody knows that the word “retarded” is often used as a slang term. Throughout my teen years, I hated when this word was used in that context. Whenever I heard that word, no matter how good my day was going, my reaction was to get angry and depressed for hours. The reason I hated the word so much is because I felt that using the word “retarded” so trivially was an insult to people who actually do have mental disorders, handicaps, and birth defects.
In my mind, it was up to me to get on everybody’s case about that word. So I became “that guy” who would throw a tantrum and start preaching to anyone who said it around me. Not a single person was “saved” by my preaching. However, I did annoy my friends and classmates to where some people would say it more often, just out of spite.
A few things led to me losing my fear of the word. For one, it always bothered me that some grown men and women are intimidated by curse words, even though I don’t know anyone who can explain why. By calling people out for saying the word “retarded,” I was acting like those adults who don’t know what a cuss is, yet feel compelled to lecture other adults and hit kids for saying one.
Also, I grew to be more accepting of my looks. There’s an old saying that what we think is our Why for doing something is rarely the true reason. My real reason was that I was sensitive about my Pfeiffer Syndrome. So sensitive that I saw the word as a personal insult, even when it wasn’t said in a personal or malicious way. I was using the plight of other people with birth defects as further excuse to feel sorry for myself.
Once those two legs were broken, so to speak, the word “retarded” had nothing to stand on. It wasn’t the word that hurt me, it was my decision to get upset over it. Happiness and anger are decisions that we make. The words themselves have no power unless we give them ours. Once I learned to respond rather than react to the word “retarded,” I realized that most people who use it as a slang term have no problem with people who have that dis-ease; they’re just using a word that means cool and stupid at the same time. I don’t get that last part, but I do digress.
A bigger picture of giving words our power lies in what my former sociology professor called the Era of Entitlement. Everything is offensive, so society is expected to be politically correct to avoid hurting increasingly sensitive feelings. I heard a rant about trigger warnings, in which the speaker told a story of a few parties that she hosted. A trigger warning is a disclaimer for an article or video, warning people that the material will be discussing sensitive topics that can trigger depression. There was a guy who attended her parties, and would go upstairs and burst into tears if he heard someone say the word “blue.” Evidently, other mundane words also have the power to trigger people.
Words like “blue,” “grass,” and even “bluegrass” have been around for centuries. I’m fairly certain that grown men and women weren’t throwing tantrums or fighting over these words until recently. When it became socially acceptable and enabling to have that level of animosity towards words, then all hell broke loose to the point of extreme reactions. People are getting fired for using certain words. Some people believe that telling a woman that she’s beautiful when you don’t know her is a form of rape. College students are afforded “safe spaces” on campus that protects them from opposing ideas and beliefs.
The old me would love it if society was this sensitive towards my “trigger words.” The present, and therefore gifted, me knows that level of power in words is just retarded. Oh, did I mention that I use that word now?
Everybody knows of the Columbus quote, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” I have an alteration that fits my thoughts on words hurting people. “It isn’t the word that causes you pain; it’s the fear of that word.”
Make a nice day!