There is a new film released entitled “My Idiot Brother.” Following the current, intense battle against the use of the word “retarded,” I wonder if the use of this pejorative term will attract the same attention as the R word. Is idiot different from retarded?
When I first began my studies in special education, I learned the terms historically used to identify persons who had intellectual disabilities. The terms used were imbecile, idiot, and moron. After years of usage, these words became offensive and were changed to severely retarded, moderately retarded, and mildly retarded. Initially they were useful in identifying levels of disability and in planning educational programs. They also became used as hurtful words, slung at people in anger or rejection, such as “You idiot!”
See the connection? Whatever the term, as long as we remain insensitive to people who are vulnerable, those who have disabilities, and those who are unable to fight back, we will use terms in inappropriate and unkind ways.
Rather than fighting the word, let us fight the deeper problem – attitude. I think the answer is another R word: respect. In our family, we have words that we do not use. In addition to the words referred to above, we add “stupid” and “dumb.”
Billy asks me why we don’t use those words. I reply, “Because those words make people feel bad.” If we can teach that idea, we won’t have to stage battles to obliterate each objectionable word that comes along. And they will come along if we continue to believe that the word is the problem.
I, for one, will not see “My Idiot Brother.”