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Teaching people to be nice

Jim's Jams

November 7, 2012
Jim Krajewski ( , The Daily Freeman Journal

Jam of the Week: "Top Floor" by TNGHT

It's very easy to use words without considering their full impact. It's even easier to do that on social media website Twitter, where snippets of opinion are thrown at the internet. However, that excuse is harder to justify when you are a nationally known pundit.

On Oct. 22, after the final Presidential debate, Ann Coulter tweeted, "I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard." Setting aside politics, and I'm sure many of you are OK with that by now, her use of the r-word was unwarranted and offensive when used in a negative fashion towards anyone, let alone the sitting President of the United States.

The next day, Special Olympics athlete John Franklin Stephens, who lives with Down Syndrome, responded to Coulter's tweet on the Special Olympics blog. He began his response by asking why she would use that word in such a fashion.

"Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren't dumb and you aren't shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?," Stephens wrote.

He continued by discussing his struggle with public perception of people with intellectual disabilities and the word itself. He said it took him some time to figure out how to respond to her use of the r-word.

"I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have...I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next... I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift. Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are and much, much more," Stephens wrote.

He closes his piece by asking Coulter to attend the Special Olympics, and signs it, "A friend you haven't made yet." I heard Stephens on "Talk of the Nation" on NPR Monday, and his and caller's comments were very eye opening.

I hear people use the r-word somewhat commonly. I've heard friends use it when they're frustrated, co-workers use it when they get angry and strangers use it in public. I was fortunate enough to have a father who has volunteered for the Special Olympics and taught me at an early age that the r-word carries. Hearing people use it annoys me, and I usually just brush it off and don't address it.

However, comments I heard from Stephens on NPR changed that. He approaches the problem as "teaching people to be nice." A caller on the show said she spoke calmly and nicely to someone she heard use the word.

It's very easy to use words without considering their full impact, and harder to quit using some reflexively. There are many words that insult that can casually roll off the tongue, and I hope Stephens' words remind you, the reader, of how sometimes it's worth remembering to be nice to people.



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