We’ve all been in that situation with a family member, or a dental hygienist, or someone else we’re chatting with – they use a term that our society now acknowledges is prejudiced or unkind. What do you do?
Many times, I imagine we freeze. We don’t want to shame them, we don’t want to get into an argument – especially with someone about to use power tools in our mouth – but to be silent is to be complicit.
In telling me a story about something else that happened to her, Live Oak member Marie Mulling mentioned something she said in that kind of a situation:
“Oh, we don’t say that anymore.”
The simplicity and the clarity of this are, I think, brilliant. She didn’t shame the other person. She didn’t ascribe motive. And … she didn’t just let it slide.
I wish I could translate Marie’s tone of voice, as that’s an important part of this. It’s friendly and welcoming. The same kind of tone you’d use if you were telling someone that Bell Blvd is also called “Old 183.”
When you tell someone, “Oh, we don’t say that anymore,” you’re inviting them into learning something new. They may have some questions. In Marie’s example, it was someone using “the R word” (retarded, when used as a slur to indicate someone – including self – is doing something not smart). As I recall from her story, the person was a little startled, and said something about how freely the term was used when she was a teen. In that situation, you can both commiserate, and give the good information, e.g. “I know, at my high school, too! But parents of children with intellectual disabilities say that using that term is hurtful to their child. So I don’t use it anymore.”
There are many words we don’t use anymore. And I’m sure there will be new ones in the future. We may not always be the first to learn the new understanding. I am hopeful that there will be someone who will say to me with a gentle smile, “Oh, we don’t say that anymore.”