A lesson in language

C and R admonished me via e-mail about my use of “retarded.” The last time a reader objected to my use of “retarded,” I had used it in reference to my imaginary puppy. In “Yoga” (CN&R, July 22, 2010), I used “retarded” in reference to me. C and R sound like a couple who share an e-mail address, although the unsigned text is written in first-person singular, so I don’t know who actually wrote the message. Either way, I don’t think I’ve ever been taken to task more gently than by R or C . I hope I’m as nice. Prolly not.

I used “retarded” this time as an afterthought and at first attributed my initial rejection of yoga to “insanity,” which nobody seems to mind. Then I decided or realized that since I eventually came to a better understanding, I could be described as slow in developing whatever faculty was involved in the decision. I was “retarded,” off the pace.

C or R suggests that I could have used a less loaded term and still made my point. Obviously, and offense is still a choice, though perhaps an unconscious one, and I think the cause of hurt feelings may be the premise or assumption or something that intellectual facility is of primary importance to all people everywhere, and so those whose intelligence is deemed deficient are victims of misfortune and it’s bad juju to mention it.

I used to think that intellect was the most important thing in life. As much as anything, I thought that way because I attended public primary and secondary schools, where it was made clear for 12 fucking years that fast, accurate answers were students’ highest duty after obedience to all authority, including the janitor. Children who couldn’t remember enough facts or respond quickly or stay in line were devalued and failed by teachers, and denigrated and ostracized by other children.

Now I don’t think much of conventional intelligence. It’s just conventional and useful for making things, especially out of petroleum. I don’t think of retarded, or intellectually challenged, or developmentally disabled, or downright stupid people as deficient or unable to have a rich experience or in any way less than I am. I respect tardos as people and thinking of them or hearing someone refer to them or me as retarded doesn’t make me feel bad.

A friend suggested that labels are lies anyway. Yes, they are, and labels for realities are about all language has to offer. If a label is a useful lie, I’m fine with it. R or C sounds like a good person, at least that’s my judgment, and I hope she or he can accept that nobody controls language, no matter how kindly their motives. Relax, it’s all good.