Friday, August 22, 2008

The Power of Words

Yesterday I grabbed our local paper and headed out to the backyard. Splashed across the front page was a report of the discovery of a giant hogweed in our area. I held my breath as I read of the potential harm it can inflict on those who come in contact with it.

Apparently, "severe burns can usually result in blistering and painful dermatitis. Blisters can develop into purplish or blackened scars, sometimes up to 48 hours after exposure. In some cases...eye contact can lead to temporary or possibly permanent blindness." Gulp...

We are cautioned to wear protective gear when gardening. It's an invasive weed, taking no prisoners, and will take over your garden if you're not vigilant. Uproot it at the first sign of its presence.

I dropped the paper and spent the next couple of hours in an extensive reconnaissance tour of our garden. Who knows, this giant hogweed could be lurking in the shadows, supposedly minding its own business. But, a la Day of the Triffids, it could be plotting a hostile takeover of our lovely garden. Visions of mutant hogweeds systematically cutting a swath through our community danced in my head.

Weeds are stealthy, sometimes taking on the look of the surrounding flora. I know better, though. They may masquerade as another member of the flower family, but they are poisonous plants, slowly choking the life out of a thriving garden. Just as a gardener will create diversity in a garden, in order to encourage a flourishing plant community, so she will uproot noxious uninvited guests.

Maybe I just need to understand where the weeds are coming from. After all, it's possible they don't mean any harm. In fact, it's possible my sense of humour needs a drastic retuning - a complete overhaul, perhaps? - and if I can see the funny side of their presence in my garden, we'll all get along much better. The weeds will take pity on its flowering neighbours, and therefore decide to play fair.

No, on second thought, even if they're unaware of the damage they're inflicting on the community, we know better. It's best to uproot them, and in their place plant something that will only have a positive effect on the environment.

Like the damage to a child's self-esteem when he hears the r-word repeatedly used against him. I read in a blog that "research featured in Harvard Mental Health Letter and published in The American Journal of Psychiatry looked at the damage that hostile words, and or yelling, can have on a child. They found "words are weapons that can cause lasting wounds..."

So it behooves us to protect our children from the negative, hostile elements in their lives, and plant them in a positive, loving, and supportive environment.

"Words have great power to heal or hurt." The Special Olympics reminds us "our choice of language frames how we think about others. It is time to respect and value people with intellectual disabilities. It is time to accept and welcome them as our friends and neighbours. Change the conversation...Stop using the r-word."

Instead, plant a different word in the community: Respect.


David in Illinois said...

Brilliantly written! Congratulations to you for "getting it". Wish more people did. I guess that is why you are out there Maureen Lee. Truly a wonderful blog which should be passed on to others.

David in Illinois said...

Forgot to mention one more thing --you are right about planting the right word in a community. Checked out your organization and was pleased to learn that the acronyn "IDEAL" stands for included, deserving, equal, appreciated and loved. Wow "IDEAL" is a great word that should be planted in communities across the world.

Gordo said...

In too many respects, by word and by deed, our entire culture seems to me to be increasingly heedless of, and less respectful towards, others in general and not just mentally challenged others. One example of widespread disrespect, and entitlement, has become so prevalent that English language dictionaries now have a phrase for it: Road Rage.

Thanks, Maureen Lee, for doing good works via the ideal-way blog. By example, you teach that each of us should be planting seeds of tolerance and respect through our individual words and deeds. Your example reminds me of an unknown author that wrote “I wondered why somebody didn't do something. Then I realized, I am somebody.”

Let’s all get off the fence and realize that each one of ‘us’ is the “somebody” that can do something. One person at a time, we will make a difference.

The next generation, intellectually challenged and otherwise, deserves no less from us - a chance to grow up in a more well mannered and respectful society all around.

yvonne said...

david, you are right on about this blog being "Brilliantly written!" I would add to that, "always!"

maureen lee, it seems to me that people are, generally, aware that "words are weapons that can cause lasting wounds..." but they are insufficiently educated to apply that awareness to those who are mentally challenged.

as Gordo wrote,"One person at a time, we will make a difference."
and, I "get it" that this blog, and, are working to correct general society's misplaced superiority complex.

more power to you. God bless.

Maureen Lee said...

Thank you, all, for your comments. You're right: one person at a time will make a world of difference in the lives of those who have been made to feel inferior to the rest of mainstream society.

Thank you, too, for your continued support!

Donald in Oakville said...

Persons with intellectual disability are more easily led than 'others'. So, in this day and age, using the "r-word" surely reveals the user as cruel, and inappropriately arrogant... a weed.

I was raised that, generally, ALL children will rise, or sink, to their parents' and their community's level of expectation for them.

My life experience as a very involved father of four has only strongly reinforced my belief that this is an universal truism.

Thank God there are blogs like this one, and organizations like, working so hard, and so well, and making a positive difference in the world. Kudos.

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