A friend on Facebook asked me and 145 of her other Facebook friends to take the pledge last week.
Each day, it seems someone wants me to change my status to support veterans, cancer survivors or mothers, and each ends the generic plea with, “I know which of my friends will support me in this and which will ignore this important issue.”
I despise these sorts of things for their empty "feel-good" nature, as well as their clumsy attempts at mass guilt.
I’ve gotten used to ignoring these electronic chain letters, but I stopped and read the one asking me to "outlaw the R-word."
Using the term "mental retardation" to describe people whose mental processes are, well, retarded -- "slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress," according to Webster -- is now considered offensive. Never mind that the term "mental retardation" was once a euphemism for "idiocy," or that "idiocy" was once a euphemism for "feeble-minded." It’s time to get back onto what linguists call the "euphemism treadmill" for yet another round of feel-good actions that generally accomplish as much as changing your Facebook status for an hour to show support for veterans.
Proponents of banning the “R-word” want us to think that changing the name is going to make a real difference. Somehow, problems faced by those who had been called "mentally retarded" will cease to exist because, you know, alcohol stopped being a problem once we stopped calling people "drunks" and started calling them "alcoholics."
Family members of mine have a horse in this race, so I’ve seen what happens when the euphemism police encourage this policy of denial. Trust me -- it’s not a pretty sight. The most damaging lies are the ones we tell ourselves.
So why is changing the term such an issue – for those who want to render "mental retardation" a cuss word, as well as for me? It’s not a sacred term, after all, and it’s a euphemism in its own right, so what’s the big deal?
I believe that we are known by how we treat other people, and changing random words to confuse the general public is not doing anything constructive to help the mentally retarded.
It isn’t creating more sheltered workshops, or group homes or safe places to live for the mentally retarded citizens living in homeless encampments.
It isn’t providing job training for those able to hold down jobs, nor is it assisting the families who will be supporting these people for the rest of their natural lives.
Changing a phrase enriches no one except the sign makers and letterhead printers, but it does allow people to feel good about doing absolutely nothing for the least able in their communities. And that, at least in my book, is shameful.