I am delighted to be meeting new people - even the cell-phone toting young students who fill up the back three rows of every class. Their enthusiasm is contagious and while their dependency on technology baffles and irritates me, I admire their compassion and open, trusting hearts.
I am also delighted and amazed at how my perception of the world is changing - and rapidly. When the course began, several professors warned us that we would discover biases within ourselves that we'd previously ignored. I scoffed then, thinking that I was without bias towards people with disabilities.
I was wrong.
Despite my own best efforts, I too have been harbouring bias toward those whose struggle to fit in is 10 times worse than my teenaged-angst ever was. Until this program, I wasn't aware that the very WORDS I use to describe someone, or something, showed those biases.
"Lucy's autistic son," for example, puts the focus and the whole of my impression of Lucy's son firmly on autism's shoulders. Better I should say, "Lucy's son, who has autism," or better still, "Lucy's son."
Some weeks back, I learned that the word backwards comes from the phrase, "in the back wards" and describes where not-so-long-ago, psychiatric patients were hidden from view. Tucked into the very back rooms of asylums nation-wide, those doctors deemed "mentally unstable" were destined to spend their days roaming about, hurting and virtually forgotten. Caged.
I began to wonder which other words I use - daily, without reserve, without thinking - that might show a bias I hate to think I've had or worse, shown. I didn't have to wonder long before I realized that my everyday speech is peppered with jargon I'd be loathe to have my new teachers or classmates hear.
Idiot. Spaz. Dummy. Schizo. Gone mental. Loonybin. Maniac. Crazy. You're insane. Retarded.
Are you cringing yet, dear reader? I am, just typing them out and these are only the words that *I've* used, not the dozens of others we listed in class one day, most of us sinking lower and lower in our seats as each offensive and derogatory word got called out and written down.
Wanna know what's even worse? I've said ALL of these words in FRONT OF MY CHILDREN.
It shames me that these are words and phrases that I, a lover of words and the keeper of little boy hearts,
Too often. Too forcefully. Too without thought-fully.
So, I have been making a clear and conscious effort to rid my speech of language which could misinform, misrepresent, hurt or worse, do all three. When I am at school, it's easier to remember to stand guard against my own tongue. Easier, but not easy as I am opinionated and given to speech-before-thought already. But, day by day, everything is changing.
As I listen to the language modelled by my professors, all of whom seem called to this work, it gets easier.
As I feel old thought-patterns and deeply-held biases fall off and melt away, it gets easier.
As I learn about the nature of disabilities and how vast and wide and broad the scope is, it gets easier.
And while I happily shed the skin of the person I have been, I am learning so many, many things.
I am being taught new words and concepts like inclusion and people-centred and support and responsibility and community.
My new language is called "People First Language" and I am wrapping my heart around all of it.
Interestingly, by challenging my brain to substitute a different, more suitable word for "retarded" I've been given a real chance to stretch, both as a writer...and as a human.
And as a mother.
Because once I'd isolated the hurtful words I use every day, I discovered even more of them.
I found that on average, I call Matthew a "Silly Turkey" 15 times a day. It's an affectionate nickname, you say? Well, yes, it is. Except when last week, I wrapped it in venom and spat it out when he fumbled a chore I'd been nagging him to complete.
And it's not just the words I choose, it's the way I offer them to my VERY impressionable young
I chide and nag and yell things like, "Seriously? Do you seriously believe that YOU are right and I, your mother, am wrong?" (Insert incredulous tone edged with blistering sarcasm. Aim it at frustrated and weepy five-year-old)
Yes, he nodded, miserably. Yes, you are wrong, Mummy.
He was right.
I was wrong. Wrong in both concept and delivery.
So, a month into my new life as mother, wife and student, I have learned that...well... I have a LOT to learn.
And as always, it seems as though my children are my best and finest teachers.
We can change the world.
How do you react to learning unpleasant truths about the world?