As Malcolm, my husband (!!!), and I watched Meet the Press on our weekly Sunday morning date, something occurred to me that I’ve never noticed before — which is a huge privilege that I haven’t had to think about it. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Todd discussed the post mid-term “lame duck” session of Congress. It suddenly hit me like lightning: the word “lame” has largely been considered ableist. It’s on its way out, or so I thought. Apparently that ideology has not infiltrated our political vocabulary. (From here on out, I will not name the word as it is offensive and triggering to lots of people with different abilities.)
First of all, what does the term mean? Traditionally, when an elected politician’s successor is elected, they find themselves with their hands tied. They can’t pass anything substantial. Instead, they focus on tying up any loose ends. They are effectively rendered useless.
For people who are differently abled, the term has historically been hurled at them as a slur. It is an adjective that describes an injury disabling someone or something, especially of animals. It is also used to describe something boring and uninspiring. This slur has been described to me by my disabled and chronically ill friends as akin to the pejorative use of “queer”. A safety assault of the worst kind to our differently abled friends. A word that emaciates hearts and reminds our friends that the world sees them as worthless, less than.
What other words or terms could we use to include our differently abled friends? To replace the duck term, why not say “ineffectual duck” or “incapable duck”? If you find yourself rolling your eyes, I gently ask you to stop now and think about why. Is it because no one can take a joke or you’re sick of everyone having to be “PC”? I wonder if you, yourself have ever been the butt of a joke. I wonder whether your face turned red, you barely contained your tears and emotions until you were home alone to cry, reminded that the world is often a very hard place. I suggest to you that flinging around triggering terms is making the world a harder place. I suggest to you my NUMBER ONE TRICK for examining this within ourselves: pause, ponder, and pivot. Changing our language seems daunting, even unsurmountable; however, starting with pause, ponder, pivot, three simple internal steps, helps break down our bias. First you pause. You stop what you’re doing, notice the thing you just said, think about where it’s coming from (am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? Am I entrenched in decades of the majority undervaluing minority populations who inconvenience the majority?) and pivoting the other direction. What can you say instead? The English language is vast and ever changing. If you need help in this area, Google it, my friend.
Join me in making the world a kinder, softer place. If you have questions about this, please reach out. I’d love to speak with each and every one of you.
With everlasting kindness,