How Easily it Rolls off the Tongue

Thoughts on Cerebral PalsyFor me the conversation stopped dead. I am not sure if all of the others at the table noticed, but my husband and I sure did.

We were at a bbq at an old friend’s house. There was a new couple there that we hadn’t met before. We were talking and laughing about the silly things my lovely (but not particularly smart) dog had done when the lady said…

laughing..’oh maybe she was deprived of oxygen at birth…maybe she has Cerebral Palsy.’

Laughs turned to silence. A pain in my heart and a burning in my throat to say something. But then after a few awkward moments it was gone and the conversation switched.

Just like that, without even knowing what she had said, she had insulted my son.

How easily it rolls off the tongue. We’ve almost become immune, haven’t we? Should I have said something? That would have surely made her feel uncomfortable. Or should I have just stayed quiet like I did?

I do notice it a lot more now, things said in jest which can eat right through to a person’s soul.

I used to say it. ‘That’s so gay.’ ‘That’s retarded.’ ignorantly not knowing the hurt it can cause. As if being gay or retarded or having Cerebral Palsy is something less, something comical, something unwanted.

I don’t think I should have stayed quiet. Next time I won’t.

14 Replies to “How Easily it Rolls off the Tongue”

  1. I applaud your grace in not knocking the woman down a few pegs – verbally or physically. I had an older brother with cerebral palsy, and it turned my stomach just reading that.

  2. I think what you did was right by keeping quiet. if you said something back, your evening would have changed from worse to worst. If God will you will get reward in some other way, by God’s grace and mercy. SO .. What you did was Just Right!! good job 🙂 love ur posts

  3. While I completely understand and sympathize with how you feel about this; I thought I would offer this perspective (something I remind myself): I think everyone has something that affects them deeply, that many others are not as sensitive to. For me it is mental illness and pregnancy loss, having dealt with both.

    I think it is near impossible for everyone to be completely sensitive and empathetic to every challenge/difference/etc. Even those with the best intentions and mindfulness can say something that unintentionally offends someone, if you know what I mean.

    That’s not to say it is right, or that you shouldn’t take offense.. but rather that most people are just.not.thinking – you know?

    Still, I fully commend you for not exploding in that situation. Thank you so much for openly sharing about this too.

    1. I think you’re right Rachel, it is near impossible and I know I have said things unintentionally which have hurt others deeply. Not too long ago I watched a ladies heart be ripped from her chest when I asked her if she were planning any more children. She told me about her struggles. I wasn’t to know. But I think there is a difference between unintentionally causing someone hurt or pain and speaking about a condition/disability/what ever in a derogatory sense. I don’t this is ok ever. Even if no-one in the conversation is directly affected, it doesn’t foster love and common respect for difference.

      My family too has been touched by mental illness and miscarriage. I wish you strength and so many good things xx

  4. Perhaps others speak without thinking because we don’t speak up when they offend. It takes enormous courage to address discrimination and insensitivity. In your place I believe it would be appropriate to speak privately to someone like the woman at the BBQ. I’m sure she would be embarrassed but also grateful for your candor and insight. This is a small step toward easing an unfortunate choice of words and increasing understanding and compassion. Most of us do not seek to harm or offend but many of us are uninformed and in need of guidance. I support your choice to remain silent but encourage you to speak up in the future. Blessings.

    1. I think that is exactly it; people often don’t speak up when others offend and so people don’t necessarily realise what they are saying. This is how we work towards greater peace and compassion. I do feel as though I have more strength to speak up now especially as Jack is yet to find his own voice.

  5. I probably would have had the same feeling and reaction including kicking myself for not saying anything. But you felt unprepared. Now that it has brewed, next time it happens you will know what to say and how. Don’t be hard in yourself.

    1. Thanks Mindy. I have been thinking about it a lot lately since I wrote this. I was completely unprepared and like Emily said, it was completely unexpected. We have been talking a lot lately to Jack about how everyone is different and how we were all given different strengths. I think it is important to build him up to feel secure about himself so comments like these can never bring him down and make him feel less than he is.

  6. I would have frozen – it just isn’t expected. Ideally, someone else at the bbq, seeing your shock and discomfort, might have had a quiet word with the woman in question and a quiet apology may have ensued. We all make mistakes and this is a good reminder to pause before speaking.

    1. I think that was it, I wasn’t expecting it. I think our host might have had a quiet word with her because some time later she approached me and asked about Jack’s ‘medical plan’ (she was a nurse). I guessed this was her way of letting me know she knew he had CP. Not quite an apology, and it was a bit of an awkward conversation.

  7. Hmmm. such a mixed bag.
    I have a daughter with Down’s syndrome. She is now 22 yrs.
    We, as a family, do use the word retarded, for its intended use. What it is. Three nurses in this bunch, we tend to be medically minded. Our daughter is mentally retarded. On the flip side of that, to deal with life…..a phrase heard in my family for the one being an absolute ding-dong is, “You know, you aren’t the retarded one in the family”.
    Actually, my daughter often acts like the least retarded person in the bunch!!!
    Please don’t judge, just real life coping there.
    I have reminded people at various times that situations and objects are NOT retarded when they use the word incorrectly. But I don’t have a hard and fast rule for when I let is slide, call them on the carpet, or speak to them privately.
    God’s Grace. It goes a long way.
    Thanks for your openness and helping other to be aware. They are usually not intending to be cruel.

    1. It is a mixed bag, isn’t it? I remember I used to remind my students when I was teaching that a thing can’t be gay. This is a term I found teenagers used a lot when they didn’t want to do something. You’re right, grace does go a long way. I think I was definitely caught be surprise as it seemed so unnecessary and not something I would have expected from an adult. I do think it is very important to be aware of the things we say and how they can hurt even though more times than not we don’t intent to be cruel.

  8. I meant to comment on this when I first seen the post, but been so busy. I think it’s easy to say something like “retarded” “gay” etc, because these are the words a lot of people use all the time. What this woman said was very precise, and not something you’d expect to “roll off the tongue”. If I were in a bad mood – I’d say that she knew exactly what she was saying and to whom and wanted a reaction.
    But I’m in a good mood today, and I’d like you to consider that sometimes people say harsh things to other people because these things relate to their own situation (something that happened to themselves or people very close to them) which helps them to deal with this situation. Little bit like Missy B. above. Many would do that subconsciously and it could be a cry for help.
    Maybe a good thing to reply with in this situation would be something like “Wow, you said it as if you are speaking from a personal experience, do you know anyone with this condition?”
    But then again – things like that can stab us right in the open wound and we go speechless or blood-eyed. Just try to stay calm next time and think if it’s generic, or sounds like a personal thing?

  9. I found your blog while researching all I can on homeschooling as I am going to be homeschooling my 12 yr old son who has cp beginning in August. He has been in public school but can no longer deal with the rejection of his peers, being made fun of the way he walks and the bullying has begun. I feel he has enough to deal with, I can at least make learning the way it should be for him. He is a gifted reader, beautiful child with a sharpe mind, just his poor legs and feet show the cp. I normally do not comment on blogs but after reading this post I can relate in ways many cannot. Unless you are there it is easy to sit back and say, “oh she didn’t mean it.” More than likely she would have never said that had she known your son has cp.BUT NEXT TIME YOU DO SPEAK for him and for all others like him by calmly responding, “my son has cp, I realize you didn’t know that but feel you should know that is something I deal with daily.” I have dealt with this for 12 long years. At first I looked away from people staring at him, one time when he was around 3 trying to walk into a movie theatre and people were having to wait for him to walk slowly in I heard behind us, “kids like that should be left at home.” That was the turning point, since then I respond to these type situations with a calm voice and a breaking heart. Well…not entirely true…I bought him a tshirt that says, “Keep staring…I might do a trick,” and at times my voice may not sound that calm but I am trying. We cannot make people have empathy, but we can stand up for those who cannot yet stand for themselves. Good luck with your son, I know that not a day goes by without me thanking the Lord for blessing me with my Miracle.

    Kelly, Mom to Jacob, who rolled into the world at 26 weeks weighing 1 lb and 1 oz.

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