Words Matter

“I think it’s important to see that words hurt and words do matter.”

– The chairman of the Special Olympics, Tim Shriver, on the President’s poor choice of language in describing his bowling skills.

It was only last month that the President made offhand remarks about Jessica Simpson looking fat.

Senator Grassley says that AIG executives should commit suicide – and then takes it back when he comes under heat. He “didn’t mean it like that.”

If I cared to spend an hour, I could come up with probably a dozen more recent examples of careless talking.

Words do matter. I thank my father for teaching me to always mean what I say and say what I mean. Boy, would he give you the third degree. And no squirming away with a lame, “But, Da-ad! You know what I mean!” He would insist that he didn’t, and make you explain yourself. It was much simpler, really, to just say it right the first time.

I excuse people all the time for careless talking, but I admit that I do so with a condescension that I try to mask. Out of charity, I keep my mouth shut, but inside I’m analyzing why someone would talk a certain way: lack of education, lack of experience, lack of compassion. A big pet peeve? Using the term “retarded” to mean “stupid.” When I was in high school, my quick retort to that was always, “My brother is retarded, but he would never do something that dumb.” I never had someone repeat that term in front of me, and I’d like to think that they probably quit for good. After all, it is rather juvenile.

But apparently, the President never met someone like me, so he never learned that saying what basically amounts to “I bowl like a retard” is, well, juvenile.

I so want the leaders of my government to act like grown ups.

Words matter. This is why we hush our children when they say mean things and make them say they are sorry. This is why we ban “bad” words like “stupid” and “hate”. This is why we teach them to say “I don’t care for it” instead of “This food is disgusting.” This is why we we suggest “I am angry” as an alternative to “I wish you were dead” and certainly as an alternative to “You should go kill yourself.”

The lessons that the President should have learned as a child are being taught to him now. It’s a hard knock and embarrassing way to learn, but I hope he studies well. And perhaps he will consider leaving the joking to Leno.

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