Please be aware of how your words can hurt others

Recently I’ve noticed that there are some inappropriate words that have slipped into our vocabularies. No, I’m not talking about those four-letter words — the “bad” words — I’m talking about the ones I hear tossed around like no big deal every day, the ones that have the potential to really hurt people emotionally, the ones that could bring a bad memory to the surface and maybe even cause someone to relapse into an unhealthy state.

One of the phrases I’ve heard a lot lately is “this test totally raped me.” The phrase is usually used in the context of an exam that was difficult or that the person feels like they flunked. Honestly, there’s probably no one who has ever been sexually assaulted in their life that uses this phrase. The people who have suffered through the physically and psychologically traumatizing experience of being sexually assaulted do not want these memories to be brought back to the surface. Our society has become insensitive to people, and I think we forget that sexual assaults happen every day, some just right around the corner, and you never know who you could be affecting by saying that one little word.

One of the other small but harmful words that is used in everyday conversation is the word “retarded.” Although I feel that this word is slowly losing its popularity, I still hear it from time to time used in inappropriate ways. In the same way, sometimes people joke around saying, “you’re special … special needs.” Now this phrase hits me in the heart in a personal place, and I finally realized why these jokes are such a big deal.

I have a little sister with special needs, and she’s absolutely one of the most beautiful, strong, smart little cookies I know. I love her dearly, and honestly, I wouldn’t want her to be any different than how she is naturally, because it’s her. When people make these jokes about being special needs, as the sister of a baby girl with special needs, it’s like a dagger to my heart. Every time I hear the phrase fly out of someone’s mouth and the people around them laugh, my heart drops because it seems to imply that there’s something bad about people with special needs. I don’t think that everyone who cracks jokes like this realizes exactly what they’re saying when they say the word “retarded” or “special,” but they’re indirectly saying that people with special needs deserve to be laughed at.

In a community where we’re fighting so hard for equality, acceptance and unity, I think this issue needs to be brought to light. It’s not OK to make these jokes anymore, it’s not funny and it’s not appropriate. As civil human beings, we’re called to love and to help those in need, not to use their disabilities or their situations as a way to get a few laughs.

I’m not saying I’m perfect — I used to make these jokes, and sometimes I still laugh at them out of habit, but I’m saying it’s time that we start trying. It’s time to start trying to make a difference, grow our vocabularies and cut out the unnecessary, harmful words. It’s time to change our lives, one word at a time.