Defending words, balancing self-confidence, speaking up and other things…

I recently joined a FaceBook group fighting against usage of names derogatory for special needs people. I read the description and it seemed to me well-balanced and having a good point – many groups created on Fb have very offensive names. After just 2 days, when reading some points of views in the discussion list I noticed very one-sided comments… well, let’s not hide behind words (and I am doing this on purpose) stupid comments. While the group included people with very balanced and rational comments, quite a few people would go as far as saying that words like “stupid, moron, cretin, idiot” should be outright banned from language. One person, mother of a child with Cerebral Palsy was even going as far as saying that she feels like slapping over the mouth the people who use the word “stupid” – never used against her son. I could, of course, let her know that my feeling was that she had issues accepting the terrible affliction of her son and was taking on the world, but I doubted I would be listened.
Words are just words. Like the atom technologies, they can be used to construct hugely beneficial things or destroy. They make up for the variety of this world and suppressing them would be totally wrong in my view. Of course, they should be used in the manner they were intended and adjust them to the sensibilities of the modern world but NEVER banned. I cannot describe the actions of a child playing in the street where cars drive +60 km/h with “less-than-intelligent”. A stupid person is NOT the person who by nature’s/God’s will has limitations but I believe it’s more appropriate to describe a person who has the capacity, the intelligence of being better and choosing not to do it. Education of how these words are to be used correctly is the only viable approach I can see. Banning? Even it would make some sense, which I don’t believe, it would never work since it doesn’t change attitudes. If “stupid” would be banned, people would use “oagadugou” or “phadhoum” (make-up words; can’t vouch they don’t mean something in some language 🙂 to describe the same thing. (When I was an adolescent, a friend has invented the word “babar” to describe cigarettes whenever his parents could be eavesdropping.) Education, on the other hand, could explain to some kids using “Look – here goes that retard again!” that in actuality they are the stupid ones because they choose to behave so hurtful despite having all the natural assets (intelligence, empathy etc.) to be something better.
I evidently withdrew from that FB group because I don’t want to be associated with hysterical people who want to social-engineer the very language. Then, at a party I mentioned my feelings about this, in approximately the same terms I am using here. A woman, teacher, retorted she doesn’t allow children to use the “stupid” word even when they describe themselves or their actions. Asked “why?” she looked at me as if it was obvious – “This could erode their self-confidence”. I started to argue that a balance should exist between boosting self-esteem and keeping it in check with reality. When one did something stupid, he/she should acknowledge that and apologize and try not to repeat it. Unfortunately, the teacher took the “higher ground” and kept silent. I say unfortunately because I honestly believe that only dialogue can educate free people – monologues are meant for slaves. In fact the whole assembly – about 6 people were witnessing this conversation – kept silent because, apparently, it is very embarrassing to have a contradictory conversation at a party, even if kept within decency boundaries. Later, reviewing the moment in my mind I reached the conclusion that the general silence was the saddest thing of that evening. 2 of the witnesses were very down-to-earth people and from other opinions they launched throughout the evening I strongly believe they were on my side. 2 others were Eastern-European immigrants and I have still yet to meet one Eastern European, who was educated there, who believes that artificially boosting children confidence is beneficial for anyone. What was sad is that no one of the 4 took any defense unless later, out on the porch, in private… at a time when it didn’t matter anymore. Some might consider this behavior good manners, I personally believe it comes from cowardice. I’ve seen it in team meetings (people loving the way you “told them off” but only in private conversations), I’ve seen it in high-school, basically I’ve seen it in any social environment. I remember a question a Women Studies Group from Algonquin posted as an answer to somebody accusing the group of manipulating The College: “How do you think 70 people could manipulate 1500?” This is exactly the way to do that: shame people into keep their mouth shut, throwing at them “guilt by association”: “he/she is a racist for saying that and you are one too if you defend his/her words”, being bullied into keeping your mouth shut because of what others could do or say about you… The silent majority, focused on every-day problem, allow “political officers/activists” take over and dictate their lives. What is more disconcerting is that later the same silent people complain of the results of their silence.
To come back to the conversation I had with that teacher, I had a vague compensation because the very next day I tripped over an article on BBC: Warning over narcissistic pupils! which confirms my belief that by boosting the self-confidence of children without any anchor in real-life performances is as bad as trashing it by continuous criticism (as it was done in Eastern Europe). Already we all witness the behavior of the Generation Y: demanding before giving, believing that they are entitled to everything and asking more and more, coming late at work and leaving early, suing over anything that discomforts them, abandoning their family/employee duties at the first sign of hardship… Imagine what 20-30 years of such education might do. I know it will all bounce back – the selfish, narcissistic generation will have children and faced with the choice of catering to their needs or the children’s, they will chose the former. Those children will probably grow with self-absorbed parents, trapped in an eternal pursuit of happiness. They will be neglected, ignored, their needs will not matter and as such they will grow to detest these attitudes and the wiser of them will write books, will work hard to avoid what they didn’t like (after all the Generation Y is the result of the New Age parents who preferred to be friends than parents, who didn’t believe in impositions of any kind). I know it’s a full circle but what good will that do to me, to us as a society in 50-70-90 years from now?

4 Comments

  • Andre

    May 4, 2009 at 8:08 pm Reply

    Wow Andi, I read and reread this post and couldn’t agree more, you and I are like-minded.

    Cheers,
    Andre

  • Andre

    May 6, 2009 at 12:17 pm Reply

    Hey Andi, here’s an interesting article I ran across:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30585984

    Cheers Amigo,
    Andre

  • andi

    May 6, 2009 at 1:10 pm Reply

    Yes, Andre – I read the article and it’s in the same mindset as I am.
    I am happy to say that my ex and I worked together to raise well Gabriel, aware of other people needs, while not forgetting his. It’s all about balance! It wasn’t/isn’t easy with everyone telling me: “Don’t tell him that because it will ruin his self-confidence”, “You are too harsh”. When should I tell him how to behave in public, how to be considerate?! When he’s 20?! Yes, it doesn’t feel good – I want to have a wonderful relationship with him and when he is upset because he has been scolded, I don’t feel too good. Yet, I know that what children need are responsible parents, not friends and if bearing some guilt is the price to pay to have raised a good person, I’ll have to live with it.

  • carmen

    June 17, 2009 at 4:03 pm Reply

    Apart from the fact that I completely agree with your opinions and that you have indeed touched all my concerns as a parent, I am astonished by the surreal founding that there are real people in the real world who take the time to Think and communicate honestly, people who can come with vivid ideas, who choose to be tormented by questions instead of sleeping on dull conclusions, people who go so deep inside things and inside themselves that become uneasy.

    Andrei, you ride wonderful your black horse !

    It is a pleasure to read you.

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