Kind Words Change Minds, Hearts, and Sometimes, Society

As I write my first piece for Channel Kindness, I find it is easier to act kindly than to write about it!  As a young person with Down Syndrome, I am challenged by having very typical thoughts, emotions, dreams, goals, and desires that I have great trouble expressing clearly. So, much of my writing for Channel Kindness will be done with the help of someone who can help structure my thoughts and clarify my words until I know that what goes down on paper reflects the essence of what I have to say.

As an everyday person, I can easily choose to be kind, to speak kindly, to listen kindly, and to simply be present with someone in need of kindness. It is always an option in front of me.

But as an advocate for people with differing abilities (dif-abilities), sometimes I have to actually tell people WHY kindness is important in our lives and in our laws. As if it wasn’t plain enough: Kindness ripples, as does unkindness.

These days, when it is too often hard to find kindness in our politics, let us be sure to find kindness, fairness, and equity in our own words, both public and private.

For example, while “mental retardation” was once a clinically appropriate and useful term, it’s slang shorthand — “retard” —  has become a common and willfully demeaning and hurtful slur that invites taunting, stigma, and stereotype. It invites bullying from the heartless, and slammed doors from the mindless. It undermines the simple human need and right to be treated with respect and dignity.

So, yes, we advocates consider the term a stinging label that is outdated, stigmatizing, and needs to go away.  But not everyone is embracing the shift. Critics say that changing the word is an act of “political correctness,” rather than any substantive change.

Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc of the United States, says it best: “We understand that language plays a crucial role in how people with intellectual disabilities are perceived and treated in society. Changing how we talk about people with disabilities is a critical step in promoting and protecting their basic civil and human rights.”

The Arc, which promotes and protects rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has been advocating the use of “intellectual disability.”  It is the reasonable position of The Arc that, “the only ‘r-word’ that should be used when referring to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is ‘Respect.’” I completely agree.

So think about the words you use, because they may change the minds and hearts we need to make our communities and society kinder and fairer for all.

Making the world a kinder place isn’t as easy as just being smiley and kind all of the time.

Sometimes we have to talk and think about it, and then act on it.

We have to be brave and kind enough to change minds and hearts through our words and our actions.

What can you do to make today — and tomorrow — a kinder place for others?

Remember:  Kindness is always possible, always an option.

Donate to Channel Kindness!

Connor Long

Connor Long, 23, lives in Colorado and is an active disability advocate, speaker, actor and athlete. His advocacy work has been recognized by the National Down Syndrome Society, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, The Arc of the United States, Council for Exception Children, the Sie Foundation, among others. His film projects & acting have screened and garnered awards from festivals across the globe, and he has earned a regional Emmy for his special-segment reporting with a major station in Denver.

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