Saturday, January 13, 2018

Words matter

I receive relatively few questionable comments as I go about my day, especially when I compare notes with other mothers of adopted children or many children or many adopted children. Maybe I give off a scary vibe, though I don't feel particularly fearsome. Maybe people are just so overwhelmed by the opportunities presented as to which avenue to take when making thoughtless comments, that they are speechless as a result. I don't know. But whether I'm at the receiving end of the comments or not, people's words do matter, especially when talking about other people.

In that spirit, I'm feeling as though it is time once again to give a quick run-down of words and phrases which just shouldn't be used, pretty much ever. I'll even give the reasons why. Onward with my public service announcement and plea to always put the person first in your speaking and comments.

1. "Your own"

This would be in the context of, "Do you also have children of your own?' or "She adopted a child, but also had children of her own," or "I can't decide whether to adopt or have children of my own." This is perhaps also one of the most abused phrases, and one I am actually going to hear on a fairly regular basis. I realize that for the most part, at the root of it, is a lack of appropriate language. The speaker usually doesn't mean anything by it, but is merely trying to differentiate between an adopted or biological child. If I am by myself, I will usually give this a pass. If my children are with me, you can be sure I'll do a little education.

The difficulty is, in every instance I've ever heard it used, it makes it quite clear that the adopted child is not 'my own.' How do you suppose this makes that child feel? I'll tell you... pretty rotten. My children are all my own, regardless of how they arrived in my family. My children are all, equally, full members of my family. They need no qualifiers. So, people, unless you are specifically talking about an adoption issue, there is very rarely ever a need to differentiate between how a family was formed. The children are all their own.

2. "To get"

This phrase is also adoption related, used in the sense of "What kind of child can you get from [insert country name]?" or "I want to get a child from [insert country name]," or "Can you still get babies from [insert country name]?" I find this phrase to fall off the lips of potential adoptive parents, new adoptive parents, and the general public in equal measure, and every time I hear it, it sets my teeth on edge.

Why? Well, the phrase implies shopping or picking out or otherwise obtaining, usually an object. It commodifies the adoption relationship and the child at the center of it. To go to a country to get a child, makes it seem like a business transaction. It does not even begin to carry the weight of what is actually going on... the losses which the child endured or the level of commitment the new parents must make to the child. It also tacitly tells something about the country the child is from, and that something is not good. It implies that the country is not our equal, that their children are ours for the taking, that we have some right to them. This is not true, of course, but this is what is implied by such a seemingly innocuous verb.

3. Any number of phrases other than congratulations

When you are confronted with someone announcing that they are either pregnant or pursuing an adoption, there is one and only one phrase that is appropriate: Congratulations! That's it. Nothing else. Not what you think about over population. Not a joke asking the person if they know what causes it. (Trust me, they've heard it.) Not asking if they are crazy. Not expressing concern over that person stretching themselves too thin. No comments about how the other children in the family will suffer. Do I need to go on?

Just stick to congratulations. Really. I don't even care if you mean it. Just say it. Because really, a new baby or child joining a family is a cause for celebration. And no one is asking you to raise the child, are they?

4. "Retarded" or "Spas[tic]"

I was reminded just yesterday, that the last bastion for vaguely publicly acceptable 'jokes' are aimed at those who are least able to defend themselves. It would seem obvious that overt jokes at the expense of the intellectually disabled are bad, but sometimes people still use these two terms that I've written to indicate that something is stupid or out of control.

Yeah, don't do that, either. The English language is rich in descriptive words. Choose words which don't immediately denigrate a person. Do I really need to expound any more on this particularly item?

5. "Shithole of a country"

Oh, please tell me you knew I was heading here. Setting aside the singularly unimaginative use of language, let's just talk for a moment why this is a problem. It boils down to people, and how we perceive them, because what's being talked about here is not just a place. To parse the phrase a bit, what would you find in a shithole, but shit. It's nearly impossible not to get to this conclusion. It's just never good form to call another person that. It's even more egregious for a represented official in charge of a country to liken another human being to excrement.

And you know what (because I've been hanging around social media far too long to know what comes next), it doesn't even really matter at this point whether or not this is exactly what he said. It's enough that the vast majority of the public doesn't have to tax their imaginations to imagine that him saying it is possible. He has not made himself above reproach. Far from it. Now, say if Fred Rogers were still alive, and someone made a statement to the media that he had said this phrase, it would be different. It would not be something people would believe of him, and he would be given the benefit of a doubt. This is the benefit of living your life above reproach; to be honorable. It doesn't mean you are perfect, but you've not jumped head first into the pig sty of your own volition. And once you are sitting in that pig sty, it hardly seems worth the effort to point out that some small part on your body is clear of... filth.

If you are a follower of Jesus, I find it appalling if you can find it in yourself to defend this. This is not who we are supposed to be. We are to love people. We are to love all people, even our enemies. We are to be so outrageous in our love that people will mark it and ask why. We cannot sit by and allow our fellow humans to be denigrated. Ever. No matter what.

"Whoever keeps covenant. Whoever does the will of my Father. Whoever believes. Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul all sing variations of the same song. What the prophets hinted at, Jesus says straight out. And Paul recognizes it, seeing how God is weaving this family of belonging from the time of Abraham. Anyone can become a member of God's family -- this is the base line for their song.

Jesus embodied this kind of family largess. Watch him, and you'll notice the company he kept. He was at ease with street kids, sick people, prostitutes -- the outcasts of society. He welcomed women, foreigners, and Roman functionaries. He dined with religious elite and partisan politicians. This is what you'd expect from someone unlimited by the boundary markers of ethnicity, class, and clan. Anyone could be close as kin to Jesus." from Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World by Kelley Nikondeha

2 comments:

To China and Back said...

Keep on educating! The "your own" comment is one of my pet peeves...especially when said IN FRONT OF my own children!

Shecki Grtlyblesd said...

To #4, I would also add the word LAME. As the mother of two children *unable to walk* prior to medical interventions after adoption, I'd really like this word to disappear from the "synonyms of stupid" list.

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