This I Believe

William - St. Louis, Missouri
Entered on August 27, 2007
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: tolerance

So often in our lives we say or do things without even thinking. As a high school student, I hear phrases such as “that’s gay”, “what a retard”, and other intolerant remarks almost every day. Most of the time, people will get a cheap laugh and life will go on. But what about those people who have personal experiences with these all too common punch lines?

For me, it’s more difficult. I have a 7 year old sister named Katy with Down’s syndrome. Ever since I was little, I remember helping her out with the most simple of tasks and remember my parents telling me to be “extra careful” while playing with her. For the most part, when I heard degrading remarks about people with special needs, I usually let it slip by. Sure I was hurt on the inside, but I always reasoned that the people didn’t mean any harm.

This summer however, was different. I was taking an accounting course at a nearby college. Everything was great except for one thing: the professor always said “that’s retarded” whenever something like a PowerPoint didn’t work or when he wrote something wrong on the board. As a result, the students took a big laugh. Perhaps it wasn’t that they thought it was funny as much as they wanted to get on the teacher’s “good side”. And for the first time in my life, I began to take offense.

Did he know what he was doing? Did he know that he was degrading every person in the world that had a mental deficiency? Did he think about how he was also insulting everyone else that associated with one of these people?

I knew it was wrong and I had to do something. I eventually decided that I would ask him to refrain from using phrases like that in his lectures. Easier said than done. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. Would it affect my grade? Would he laugh at me? After practicing to myself nearly ten times and working up all my courage, I finally confronted him. To my relief, he seemed pretty understanding. He apologized immediately for any offense and said he didn’t think anything at all when he said things like that.

But there’s a wider picture involved that most people over look. It isn’t about offending a certain group; it’s about the inferred idea that certain people should be treated as inferior people because they are different. Isn’t this just like Ku Klux Klan members lynching African Americans because of their different skin color?

If we are to live in peaceful, uplifting societies, I believe this sort of ideology should be uprooted even in its most casual context. Thoughts lead to actions; if we get rid of the degrading thoughts we will get rid of the actions, which are sometimes as terrible as hate crimes, which could potentially ensue.